View from the Pew
Lent is really for receiving, says minister
Giving up candy was a popular but difficult Lenten discipline as a child. Countless adults still don't get beyond abstaining from a treat as their rite of preparation for the greatest celebration of Christianity at Easter.
Preparing for Lent
Don Postema will present paths toward a spiritual observance of Lent in lectures and Taize meditational prayer services at two Honolulu churches next month. All events are free and open to the public.
"Space for God During Lent" is the theme of three sessions in the Phifer Memorial Lecture Series at First Presbyterian Church, 1822 Keeaumoku St.
» March 6 at 7 p.m., his topic will be "Does God Have Adult Friends?"
» March 7 at 7 p.m., he will explore art and spirituality in "Looking at God Through the Eyes of Vincent van Gogh."
» March 8 at 7 p.m., a Taize worship service will feature music, readings and meditation prayers.
Postema will speak at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Queen Emma Square, in the Peggy Kai Lenten Series.
» March 15 at noon, his talk aimed at working people is an "Invitation to an Out-of-the-Office Experience: Paying Attention to the Divine in Ordinary Life."
» March 15 at 7:30 p.m., the Taize service will be preceded by an introduction about the Taize ecumenical religious community in France.
Don Postema believes Lent is more about receiving than giving up. It is not a "time for belt-tightening discipline, giving up chocolate or pizza, but giving up what's in the way of our relationship, our resistance to the one who loves us.
"To me, Lent is a time when it is better to receive than to give. Christianity begins with us being receptive to God the giver," said Postema, who travels internationally to speak and lead retreats in spiritual formation.
He will speak at two Honolulu churches next month on the material in his books "Space for God" and "Catch Your Breath: God's Invitation to Sabbath Rest." His talks March 6 and 7 at First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu and March 15 at St. Andrew's Cathedral will be free and open to the public.
"Being a child of God is nice. Being an adult friend of God is more challenging, more affirming. I think God would like people to grow up and act like adults," said Postema, an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church. He retired as lecturer in religion and Campus Chapel pastor after 34 years at the University of Michigan. His graduate studies in several universities included study at Yale Divinity School with the late Henri Nouwen, author of numerous books on spirituality.
"How do adult friends act with each other? To keep a friendship going, you have to spend some time with your friend," said Postema in a Wednesday interview. "I think God would love it if people would just hang out with him. Prayer is staying in touch with our divine friend.
"Jesus said, 'I don't call you servants, but friends.'"
It is a friendship that should be cultivated all the time, he said, but a season like Lent, in which Christians prepare to celebrate Christ's resurrection, provides a focus. "Our lives are out of focus a whole lot of the time. What we are really aching for is being really present with God."
The retreat master does not recommend waiting for a weekend escape to devote time to prayer and meditation. "I invite people not to step aside from your life, but live a God-conscious life in the middle of everything."
He said, "The idea of Sabbath -- it's not only a day to take off to refocus. I ask, how many Sabbaths do you need in a day? We need time to refresh ourselves.
"I encouraged people to just sit," said Postema, who leads retreatants through focusing exercises. "Have a phrase, such as 'I belong to you, oh God,' and just say that phrase over and over again." When distracting thoughts or worries invade the thought track, don't get hung up on those mental detours, but say, "That belongs to you, Oh God" and move on.
"If I were to summarize spiritual life, it would be two words: pay attention," he said. "During Lent, in order to pay attention, we need to get out of the way of what interferes with our being in the presence of God."
Don't be a hermit, either, he said. "Communal worship helps as much as private meditation. Christianity is a communal religion. You have all the other people who are part of the family."
People today borrow meditation practices from Buddhism and other Eastern religions. "One of the reasons I wrote my books was to say, we have this in our own tradition," the minister said.
Postema will lead Taize worship services of prayers around a cross. He has studied with the ecumenical religious community of Taize, France, where the meditative form was created.