Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

Lent: Awake and Paying Attention

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Lent: Awake and Paying Attention
A faculty reflection by Cynthia Bourgeault

“Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”

As this alumni newsletter wends its way to you, we have barreled past Ash Wednesday, which this year—February 14—happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day. Does it strike you that there’s something deliciously ironic here: that in this of all years, the feast of love and the solemnity of self-examination and repentance come so closely intertwined?

I have to admit that I’ve always loved the Ash Wednesday liturgy. Antiquated, gender-challenged though its language may be, it inevitably and forcibly calls me back, as the ash is smeared on my forehead, to the palpable remembrance that we belong to earth: we are formed of her and will all too swiftly return to her. In a religion that seems to spend so much of its time getting out of the body, this fleeting remembrance of our universal habitat in the biosphere has always struck me as grounding, honest, and strangely comforting.

Damaged La Casa de Maria in Southern California after a devastating mudslide. This year, the planet has clearly beat us to Lent. There’s no evading karma; our cumulative centuries of human greed and entitlement have finally elicited a response, a wrenching NO from the heart of Mother Nature herself. Climate cycles grow steadily more violent and volatile–the last months of 2017 and beginning of 2018 were marked by an unremitting series of natural catastrophes. Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, torrential rain are no longer confined to remote corners of our planet, but press hard against our own all too safe and privileged backyards.

In Southern California—where my daughter and her family reside and where I regularly teach at La Casa de Maria in Montecito—Advent began with ashes, as wildfires burned out of control and thousands were evacuated or lost their homes. La Casa de Maria squeaked through the fires only to succumb to the horrific mudslides a month later which swept through the property with volcanic force, wrenching away buildings and devastating grounds gently manicured over the years to be a “safe” and “welcoming” space for spiritual work.

There was a stunning incongruity to the whole scene. It was a little eerie to notice how the very baroque and anguishing crucifix in the Chapel—which in recent years has been deemed by some to be a little too harsh for the more genteel, interspiritual tone now being set by the retreat center—finally came at last into its own. The crucifix presided over a river of mud and destruction with the graphic reminder that spiritual work—particularly contemplative spiritual work—is never either completely “welcoming” or “safe.”

Welcome to our brave, new world.

For many decades now, as the contemplative renewal has gathered steam and developed its own interpretive lens on the world, contemplation itself has often been presented as something “safe” and “welcoming”—an invitation to sequester ourselves in beautifully gated monastic compounds perched on fabulous hunks of real estate to sit on our prayer cushions, keep silence, and attend to the serenity of the inner kingdom. The gnawing intuition in the pit of my stomach keeps telling me that this is all about to be swept away before our eyes. Actually, it is being swept away even as we speak—in the great mudslide of divine grace and evolutionary imperative which will pitilessly remove the gated communities of “our little closed loves” (as Teilhard calls them) to prepare for the advent of something infinitely stronger, more collective, more flowing, for which every sinew of our contemplative nerve is being prepared.

Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday: Great love and deep remorse of conscience, indissolubly joined in the human heart. This year, more than ever, may Lent find us awake and paying attention.

Love and blessings,

Cynthia Bourgeault's Signature

Cynthia Bourgeault

Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.