Reverend Susan Burttell

Islander News is pleased to introduce a new periodic feature column of spiritual reflections from the island’s local leaders. The first of which is from guest contributor; the Reverend Susan Bruttell, Rector and Head Master of St. Christopher’s by the Sea Episcopal Church.

As God gifts us with the beauty and rhythm of the seasons, so the church provides us with the season of Lent.

It is a time of preparation and restoration and reconciliation. Lent urges us to come to a deeper truth of ourselves and to make the journey toward greater integrity through God's invitation to be silent, to listen to ourselves, to be still, to be in the presence of God.

Lent reminds us of the need to pause and remember that God dwells in the rough places and the sad events of our world as well as the happy times and joyful celebrations of our lives.

We know how fragile life is. We have seen how lives change in an instant. We are all too aware that life is a precious fleeting gift. The Judeo-Christian scriptures call to mind that same tenuous grasp we hold on life. They lay out the many ways we are called to respond to and from our humanity.

“For many people in our society,” John Sierra believes, “there is no greater fear than being ‘naked’ in front of others. We are confronted by so many unrealistic and unnatural bodies in the media that the realness of our own bodies can become frightening and shaming.

Our lack of control, of youth, of power, become reasons for hiding. And not just literally. We hide behind work, behind family, behind productivity and profitability. We hide behind our fears, and we hide behind our scars. It is natural in a world that is struggling to accommodate so many people that each of us as individuals can quickly become invisible. And when we become invisible, it’s easy to run into us, like furniture in a darkened room. So we hide.” 1

“Everyone goes through times of pain and sorrow, depression and darkness, stress and suffering. It is in the necessary struggles of life, however, that we stretch our souls and gain new insights enabling us to go on. We struggle,” says Joan Chittister, “Against change, isolation, darkness, fear, powerlessness, vulnerability, exhaustion, and scarring; and while these struggles sometimes seem insurmountable, we can emerge from them with the gifts of conversion, detachment, faith, courage, surrender, limitations, endurance, transformation, and (perhaps most important) hope.”2

The truth is that we spend our lives in the centrifuge of paradox and incongruities: Life ends in death; what brings us joy will surely bring us an equal and equivalent amount of sorrow . . . When seekers went out to the wasteland looking for spiritual direction from the Mothers and Fathers of the desert, they did not receive in response to their spiritual questions harsh exercises in self-denial.

On the contrary. They received instruction in self-knowledge. They received the wisdom of those who themselves had fathomed the tumult of life’s paradoxes. They were instructed in the need to confront the tensions in their own lives because the spiritual life begins within the heart of the person.3

This Lent, challenge yourself, not to be more of who you feel the world is calling you to be: the easy and unrealistic thinner, fitter, smarter, and faster self. Perhaps not even who your community or your family are calling you to be. I challenge you to be naked, to confront yourself with whom your God is calling you to be: humble, thankful, trusting, human.

1 The Reverend Jason Sierra. 1st Sunday of Lent, Year C. Sermons that Work. February 21, 2010.

2 Joan Chittister. Scarred by Trouble, Transformed by Hope. Erdman, Erie, 2003.

3 Joan Chittister. Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life. “Introduction: Thinking the Unthinkable.” Crown, New York. 2015, 12-14.