8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own;but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Earlier this year I was sick with COVID. Thankful for being vaccinated, I did not suffer greatly nor did I need to go to the hospital. Yet the symptoms I experienced were potent enough to push me off my game for a few weeks. It was truly something I had never before experienced.
One of the consequences of feeling ill is that all my disciplines went out the window. And I mean all.
Since I still had an appetite, oddly enough, I indulged in unhealthy eating habits and foods. And, because of the body aches and severe muscle cramping, I did not engage in my favourite Canadian winter outdoor activities of cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, skating nor even walking along snow-covered pathways. These were all physical disciplines my wife and I started doing from the beginning of the winter season in Canada around Christmas. So all that stopped.
What bothered me was even my meditation discipline suffered. It was difficult, when I felt ill, to approach and settle into periods of physical and mental stillness.
I yearned and lamented with Saint Paul … “11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” With Saint Paul, my usual knee-jerk reaction when facing adversity is to “press on”.
Some years ago, I walked part of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain (del Norte). On the way I met a couple of men from Lyons France. They were pretty intense about how to reach the goal still over 700 kilometres away. I resonated with their advice for the long journey ahead: In order to achieve this goal they told me to “Attaquer le chemin!”
But alas, I only achieved 110 kilometres because unbeknownst to me I had ‘walking pneumonia’—literally. Eventually my energy levels were so low I couldn’t go on. After one week on the trail I had only made it to Bilbao before returning home.
When Paul writes that he considers everything a loss, I stop at this universal expression: everything! Even good things. Even things that I had presumed were beneficial for my soul.
Last month I experienced with COVID what it feels like to lose control over all the healthy routines and disciplines which bring stability and joy to life. It’s like when one thread was pulled, the whole garment unravelled.
The practice of meditation teaches me what it truly means to run the race, as Paul says. Because it’s not “having a righteousness of my own”. It isn’t about untiring effort to achieve and be successful at some project, whatever it is. It isn’t “attaquer le chemin”. In running the race I’m not in competition with anyone, even myself. Winning doesn’t mean someone else or something else—even the chemin beneath my feet—has to lose.
In facing the abyss where nothing was productive and my ego compulsions to control were disrupted, disentangled and deconstructed, perhaps I was given a gift. A gift of loving awareness that in meditation running the race is more about ‘leaning into’. In meditation it is a yielding to a love that is beyond my pain and my joy. It is leaning into the hope of life out of death.
Purging, letting go, resetting. Entering the apophatic way of prayer is not about our capacities to do anything. Is this a death, itself?
There are seasons of our lives, ritually observed in the church year, now in Lent, when we can embrace a letting go, experience a purging, and engage a reset on life. It is, as the word Lent literally means, a springtime.
The Lenten journey soon comes to an end. We are nearing the destination which has always been the promise of new life. The Lenten journey affirms that dying to self and experiencing death—in whatever form it takes—are integral to our growth and the emergence of life that now comes to us as a gift and as grace.
Where have you experienced a purging, a necessary letting-go, an invitation to press ‘reset’ on your way of life? Is there yet a new thing emerging from the ashes?