Lenten Listening

Lent begins today. It came upon me, almost unexpected. Snow is blowing outside, and inside we’ve been hit with one of many winter viruses. The house is shuddering in the northwest wind and I’m curled up with a hot water bottle. I’ve observed Lent in one form or another for almost 20 years. Some years I’ve fasted, some years I’ve prayed or studied with a particular focus in mind, and other years I’ve followed a devotional or other reading plan.

This Lent I want to listen.

So far this year, my spiritual life has been impacted by the idea of small turns toward God. This is a habit I want to continue during Lent, especially with my Scripture reading. I want to listen for the words and images that the Holy Spirit illuminates. I want to turn my heart toward these nudges, because I believe each word—and each small turn—will bring me closer to Jesus.

(If you’d like to read more about the power of these microturns toward God, you can subscribe to my email newsletter where I’m writing a series on cultivating this practice in different areas of life. You can read and subscribe here. This is where I’m sharing most of my writing this season. I’d love to connect with you there!)

There is a gospel passage that keeps quivering in my heart these winter days. There’s a version of it in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). In it, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, warning those with dull spiritual senses and hearts turned away from God.

Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:14-16:

“In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,

You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”

I’ve been mulling this over, and turning this warning into a prayer as I read Scripture. I plan to use this as a general framework for my Lenten meditation and prayer time.

Jesus, what do you want me to hear and understand?
Jesus, what do you want me to see and perceive?
Jesus, how can I turn toward you and your kingdom?
Jesus, bring me your healing and wholeness.

I’m sharing it here in case it might be helpful for anyone else. Also, between sips of ginger tea and naps, I’ve been putting together a journal that can be used throughout Lent, with these prayers as prompts for each day. I’ve included a both a blank template which you can use with any Scripture reading plan (print off as many as you want) and a dated guide that goes through the entire gospel of Mark. What better way to spend Lent than leaning in close and listening to the words of Jesus himself?

You can download the guide for free by clicking the image below:

Lord, give us ears to listen.

~ Lindsey Gallant

Introducing A Quiet Christmas

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One late November afternoon, I am drawn out into the bending light. Away from the clamour of the house and its flurry of concerns, past the withered garden and scratching chickens, down a set of mossy stone steps, and toward the hollow where our patch of woods stands by the river. In the distance, trucks roar over the narrow bridge, but as I walk away from the crossroads, the rumbling recedes.

Soon, all I can hear is the shuffle of damp leaves underfoot, where the horse chestnuts gleam out from their spiny pods and wild apples soften into the earth. Stooping under a branch of dangling mountain ash berries, I enter the path that descends to the river. There is a Linden tree in the heart of this tiny forest, and it is under these leafless limbs that I stop.

It is perhaps the first time all day I have stopped moving. The river is glass this afternoon. There is not so much as a rustle or creak in the trees above. For a moment, all is perfectly still. Exquisitely silent. The only thing I hear is the heaving air in my lungs. Gradually, my breathing slows, and the jangling noise of my own mind begins to fade.

What does it mean to keep silence? The line of this old Advent hymn rises like the vapour of breath on a cold day, a whisper against the pulsing sound wave of the festive season. Everywhere I go, the Christmas soundtrack is on repeat already. Celebration is good. But the jingle can become overwhelming. I need quiet. . .

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I’m quietly thrilled to announce my new Advent devotional! A Quiet Christmas: Keeping Silence with the Word is your invitation to experience the awe and intimacy of the Incarnation.

This four-week journey is a reflection on the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” as well as a meditative guide through the Scriptures that reveal the mystery of God’s presence with us in Christ. Each week, a new essay will explore an aspect of our need for sacred silence, while the daily guide will lead you step-by-step in a process of listening to Scripture and keeping a loving silence with the Word Himself.

If you’re longing for some peace in your busy season, this is for you.

If you are having a quiet Christmas this year, and you’re not sure how to the fill the silence, this is for you, too.

Do you want to find out who I met in the silence of the woods? Download your own copy of A Quiet Christmas in the shop and find out!

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I pray this guide will lead you closer to Jesus and the peace he offers. Be blessed to keep a loving silence with the Word this year.

The Broken Silence of Remembrance

In the silence around the cenotaph, a rooster began to crow. I heard it across the river, and knew its throaty notes—our rooster. At first I felt mild embarrassment that our creatures could not keep silent for these two minutes, with a whole community standing by to pay their respect to the dead. It crowed once, twice. A few people raised their eyebrows in the direction of the noise. A third time. I kept my eyes on the damp grass at my feet. 

And then I remembered the silence of a long-ago midnight fire, the dawn about to break, and a man broken in despair that he had denied his master and friend three times. The cry rang again across the valley, unmistakable in the quiet morning air.

“A rooster crowing…” I heard the whisper of a woman behind me, her voice gravelly with age. What omen did she hear in the rooster’s call? 

In our gathered stillness the thought echoed through my mind—How do we deny God even now? How have we shunned the presence of Love and Mercy in the world? In what ways do we keep turning our backs on the only hope for humanity, refusing to walk the difficult path of forgiveness and peace? 

The piper began his mournful tune, a lament that filled our ears, wringing our hearts with the grief that rolls on, age after age. 

How can anyone find the strength to do this, when wars continue to rage and children continue to cry? 

After the outdoor service, kids in bright coloured coats rushed up to the cenotaph to place their poppies there with the wreaths, bedding the bare November ground in a velvet garden of red. And then they talked to their neighbours, and played with a dog, and danced along the edge of the riverbank. 

Next to the roosters, it is the children here who know the least about war, and thank God for that. 

I don’t have the answers to a world on fire. The rooster’s crow makes me uncomfortable, because if I examine the silence of my own heart, I see there all the ways it tends to twist away from love and mercy. God help me. God help me follow the Man who shows a better way. God help us all.

As the crowd dispersed it began to rain, and my seven year old daughter slipped a cold hand in mine. In her other hand she held the medals of her great grandmother, a WWII radio operator in the RAF. “Can we go home now?” she asked. I nodded and we crossed the street together, her little arm pulling me across the wet pavement and around people dashing for their cars. And I followed her, threading my way between the rooster’s crows and the laughter of children.

~ Lindsey Gallant

Image: Peter McDougall piping the lament, photo by Donald Matheson

Beneath the Oaks: The Weight of a Story

This reflection came out of a special weekend in Green Lake, Wisconsin with my fellow “Story Leaders.” It is a joy and honour to work with these people in the Your Story Matters and Memoir Masterclass community, led by Leslie Leyland Fields. Ours was a sacred time together.

Sunday morning beams an exquisite brightness over the lake, pulling me out the back door of the Wisconsin guest house and into the dappled gold under the trees. Seventeen of us have gathered here in Green Lake from all over the world, from seventeen walks of life, drawn together by a shared vision and the common work of writing our stories. 

Everywhere I step there is an abundance of acorns. Heaps of them beneath the towering oaks, in the cracks of the dock, crushed on the driveway, or half buried in the ground beneath the falling leaves. The sun glints off the water, dazzling my eyes, turning them downward. The season of showy fruit has passed, and now the seeds emerge, a humble, unremarkable brown. Without fragrance, without colour. Just the shades of earth and faded living matter given over to a slow decay. But there is unmistakable sweetness here. This is the time of things unseen. 

I wander over to one of the oaks whose bark is deeply furrowed with age, and lower myself to the ground beside it. Hundreds of acorns lie within reach of my hands, smooth and plump with their jaunty little caps. The squirrels have already gotten to many of them. I lean into the strength of the oak’s trunk, surrounded by this litany of surrender and faith. For winter is coming, but the tree must give up its treasure in order to regenerate. 

The acorns, all these are professions of faith: I believe in the beauty of descent. I believe in the mystery of death. I believe in the power of the promised seed. I believe in good soil, cursed as this earth may be. I believe in new life. 

One little acorn crashes into the leaves near the fire pit. Does anyone notice so slight a dent in the earth’s crust? But I hear it—the fall of a single seed. 

Lifting one acorn in my hand, I hold an entire world. Hidden in the grain is a tightly pressed message of life, the word of creation itself, the word of the third day. 

Then I feel the weight of it—here is one story. 

The wind stirs the branches high above, and the phrases fall into my mind like the murmuring of a creed: I believe in the power of a story. I believe in the Spirit’s pollination of our deep places. I believe in the beauty of truth told. I believe in the vitality of grace spoken. 

I believe in the power of stories released, though it is terrifying to let them go, small as they are, to scatter in the wind. I believe in good soil, barren and waiting for just the right seed to fall into its cracks and make a home there. I believe the story must break open to reveal and regenerate the life within. I hear it—the fall of a single story. 

And suddenly I see them, all our stories, the fruit of our patient and painful labour, given as offerings, given in surrender, given in faith, not in our own power, but as seeds in the hands of the Sower. These stories—your stories—have already taken root in the hungry cracks of my soul, pushing up hopeful and healing and surprising and green.

This earth is full of them, a humble, remarkable glory. 

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~ Lindsey

Are you wondering if your story matters? May I recommend Leslie’s book? These pages have brought me insight, healing, and community. “There is no part of human experience not worthy of attention, illumination, and restoration.” (Leslie Leyland Fields)

Dream Small

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Slow me down to the dawdling of a child,
popping jewelweed pods in the lane.

Hold me back to catch the straggling western light,
the last low glint on her freckled cheek.

Hush me quiet to the black hen’s roosting,
the ruffle of chicks tucking in under wing.

Dream me small into moments of gravity,
the pure sight of the waking heart.

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Lindsey Gallant
S. D. G.