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Today is episode 118: What I Learned This Lent – 2023
Hi friends, happy Easter! As you may know, I took a bit of a break from the podcast for Lent in order to draw close to God. I did offer some reflections along the way, and you can catch up with those over at kerrycampbell.org if you’d like, but I do hope that your Lent was fruitful and that you experienced the closeness of Emmanuel – God with us – and the extravagant love of Jesus as you walked through Holy Week together with Him.
Today I’ll share the story of some of what I learned this Lent and draw a few parallels to the story of Holy Week and Easter. If you’ve listened to this podcast or read any of my writing, then you will know that I experience God frequently through signs and symbols. I love making stories or narratives from the things I see and encounter – just the way I’m wired – and this Lent I was open to a sort of token or figure whose attributes God might use to lead me down a rabbit trail into some deeper wisdom about His nature and about the path that we are walking out together in this time.
At the start of Lent, I thought that symbol might possibly be a tree and I wrote about that in a Lenten reflection called ‘My Life as a Tree’, which was all about how it’s not my job to ‘make’ anything bloom but simply to draw life from God and allow Him to grow and bloom new things through me.
For another stretch of time, I thought my Lenten symbol might be a hummingbird. I relate to hummingbirds because for one, they’re musical like I am, but also their big hearts and constant fluttering and almost frantic movement from flower to flower just feels kind of familiar to me in my very active mind and the way I move about the world.
But one day in late March, my Lenten picture made its way to me, and it wasn’t in a way I was looking for. God is so fun sometimes, and so kind. This is a story about His faithfulness and how He is in our details. It’s a story about how when all seems to be lost, God is always present, and right on time. It’s a story about how we humans can’t conceive of the abundance He wants to show us. And of course, these are the very same lessons that the friends of Jesus learned in real time during what would later be known as Holy Week when they, like most humans, were doing their very best but really not ‘getting it’ until the miracle was right in front of their face.
Today’s story is about an owl. (Actually, it’s a story of many, many owls, too many to count really, but hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
On the morning of Thursday, March 23, I felt a pull from the Holy Spirit to go and read my devotional before heading out to teach a music class. Sometimes I get these pulls and I have learned through experience to pay attention. So, when I opened my Jesus Calling devotional for the day, I read:
I am a God of both intricate detail and overflowing abundance. When you entrust the details of your life to Me, you are surprised by how thoroughly I answer your petitions. I take pleasure in hearing your prayers, so feel free to bring me all your requests. The more you pray, the more answers you can receive. Best of all, your faith is strengthened as you see how precisely I respond to your specific prayers. Because I am infinite in all My ways, you need not fear that I will run out of resources. Abundance is at the very heart of who I AM. Come to Me in joyful expectation of receiving all you need-and sometimes much more! I delight in showering blessings on My beloved children. Come to Me with open hands and heart, ready to receive all I have for you.
It was the reference to abundance that caught my attention. I had recently written a reflection on the abundant life that God is calling us to, and I found it interesting that abundance here was tied to the details of our lives along with an invitation to pray specifically in our requests. Something about that connection led me to ask God for a sign.
Now I know we are not supposed to test God, and as I said, I do have a natural inclination toward signs and crafting narratives around those signs, but that morning I did feel a leading from the Holy Spirit to ask God to show me a thing so that I’d feel Him in the details of my life and be encouraged and that thing was an owl. Owls are not particularly meaningful to me, they’re not commonly found in culture as, say, a butterfly might be. They don’t symbolize anything in my past or in my psyche, but I had noticed a couple of references to owls in the previous couple of days so I said to God, “I am not testing you, but I am trying to respond to your invitation to pray specifically so that you can show me your abundance, so if you’d like, maybe you could show me an owl today. And if not, no worries.”
This was no big deal in my spirit, honestly it seemed sort of silly, but as you might imagine, I was low key on the lookout for owls during that day, and occasionally found myself pointing out to God the places where He might logically come through with one. Children’s books in the library where I taught, a woman on tv wearing a sweater covered with every animal but an owl, well, you get the picture. And the day was quickly coming to an end and…no owls. And honestly, no big deal – God certainly has bigger things to do than provide an owl sighting in this weird game I had asked Him to play.
Yet as I settled into bed with my kindle that night, read exactly one paragraph and tapped the screen to turn the page, there it was, a completely unexpected reference to an owl. The book was Fr. Greg Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart, and the passage read:
“Thomas Merton writes, ‘No despair of ours can alter the reality of things or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there…We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.’” Fr. Greg goes on, “the cosmic dance is simply always happening, and you’ll want to be there when it happens. For it is there in the birth of your first child, in roundhouse bagging, in watching your crew eat, in an owl’s surprising appearance, and in a “digested” frog. Rascally inventions of holiness abounding–today, awaiting the attention of our delight. Yes, yes, yes. God so loved the world that He thought we’d find the poetry in it. Music. Nothing playing.”
Well, to get some of those references, you’d need to read the whole book, which I highly recommend you do, but just listen to the beauty of that.
The cosmic dance.
The poetry that exists in the world God loved enough to make.
The music of life which is always happening but which we cannot always hear.
The beautiful quote from Thomas Merton and a reference to an owl in the very last thing I looked at in that day.
And if you’re still with me in this weird story that seems to be about owls, but which is really about so much more, first of all thanks, and secondly it might interest you to know that that late-night reference to an owl was only the first of many, many owls, because for the rest of Lent, owls were everywhere.
In a pre-yoga conversation between two women speaking about an owl in their neighborhood, on a kid’s t-shirt in a music class, stuffed animal owls, an owl on a greeting card, owl cut-outs featuring kids’ names in a school where I teach, an owl-shaped security camera at the bakery across the street from our hotel on a weekend trip to DC. Then there was the time my daughter and I turned into the only empty parking space in the lot only to be met exactly there by two enormous metal owl sculptures. And on and on and on. When it comes to owls, this Lent was truly an embarrassment of riches.
Each time an owl appeared where I was not looking and did not expect one, it brought surprising delight to me in that moment. Because it’s not about owls and it’s not even about ‘signs’. For me, it’s about the dance that Thomas Merton refers to. The passage I’d read that morning linked our details with God’s abundance and the evening passage linked those details to the cosmic dance to which God is always inviting us.
God knew that morning when He pulled me to that devotional that I would ask to see an owl and God knew that I would see one in the very last thing I looked at that day. This points to a God who is playful, who knows everything, who is in our details, who is right on time, who shows up in ways we don’t expect, who is abundant, and who wants to dance with us. And I think that for me, maybe it’s time to say yes to that invitation.
This Lent I’ve learned – actually the better word might be ‘accepted ‘– that I don’t have to point God to the places and ways in which He should act next. I don’t have to be on alert, hypervigilant, mapping it all out, being one little human somehow making a way for the God of the universe to move because, really, how silly to think I even could. God is already moving. His ways are in process, and they are good. It’s only to me to accept His hand when it is offered to me, and He is offering it to me and to you always, because He loves us.
As the disciples met and walked with Jesus during His ministry, they wrestled with some of the same human desire to plan and control the movement of God and He was as gracious with them as He is with me. After all, they expected a military conquest and got a crucifixion. They wanted to keep their circle close and small, and He routinely expanded it to include people outside of their culture, people they neither liked nor trusted. They wanted promises of glory, of sitting at his right and left hand and He told them that following Him would come at a high and painful cost. They didn’t understand that it was not their job to make a way for Him, but that His way was already in process and that they had the privilege of participating in it. They didn’t know, when their rabbi and friend suffered such a gruesome death, that the work they’d undertaken was not a failure and that it was not too late. In fact, it had only begun.
Spring from winter, life from death, the beginnings of a Gospel message that would spread from their tiny corner of the globe all around the world, God was already moving in a way they did not understand or expect, and which was much bigger than anything they could have conceived.
Our days are planned and known. I believe that, and I believe that God is making a way, but this Lent I guess I’ve learned that the way can be more of a dance than I once thought, and that God is way more qualified than me to lead it. After all, I can’t make an owl appear. I can’t make anything appear and I can’t figure out a way to fix this broken church of ours or the leaders who seem determined to keep us on a course of clericalism, nationalism, and hate. I don’t know the answer to the many challenges we face as a country and a church, but this Lent, I guess I’ve learned that it’s not up to me to know it. God does, and it is not too late.
And now, each time I see an owl (and I see them literally everywhere now), I hear the kind voice of God speaking in my spirit. He says:
I am here.
I am in this.
So, as we move into this Easter season of miracles, let’s take God up on His invitation to new and abundant life. Let’s see where He’s leading. Oh friend, let’s dance.
Thanks so much for being with me today, friend. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God who brings forth unexpected life from death, cause us to see your Hand extended to us and to our dear ones in this Easter season. Thank you for the gift of Jesus and of the abundant life that you offer us. In His name and wrapped in the mantle of our Mother Mary, we pray with expectant hope. Come Holy Spirit, amen.
Well, thank you so much for listening today, friend. I’m so happy to be back with you, and I’ll see you next time.
As I return from my Lenten break, I’m sharing what I learned from my time away along with parallels to the story of Jesus and his friends during Holy Week and Easter.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or at my website. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Daily devotional: Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young
2. Book: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Fr. Greg Boyle
3. Podcast: Turning to the Mystics with Jim Finley on Thomas Merton from Center of Action and Contemplation – transcript