March 5, 2003
Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding.

"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure - 'playactors' I call them - treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it - quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

[The Message]


1. One of the benefits of a fasting retreat is the way in which scales fall from your eyes and you can see behind the scenes. It is almost as if GOD gave you a pair of x-ray glasses so you can see underneath the usual coverings to the essence of things. No, these are not the kind from the backs of comic books of yore. No, this is not a drug-induced high. This is a moment that not only opens us to the larger play, but opens us to play larger with others and with life.

2. So is good acting following the traditions of acting style or is it more free-form. Are the best actors those who are able to follow the script, word by word, or those who improvise in the spirit of the character they inhabit (or who inhabits them for awhile)? Obviously it depends on the play and the part and the actor.

Likewise with prayer. How is you praying this day and do you need to shift acting formulations?

3. Have you lost a sense of GOD's grace in your life in recent days? Have you slipped in your assurance of the presence of GOD? The traditional response and the radical improvisational response is to stop looking so hard. It is sort of what to do when lost - stop wandering. Alight. Get your bearings. Sense the energy lines running past your place.

Of course this is counter-intuitive. Usually we redouble our efforts to find the right magic in place or formulations.

As we enter the Lenten season. Let's just lighten up. This is not Lent Late but will become a Lent Light so we can see a resurrection beyond every seeming bloody cup.