Being-at-one is not individualist self-realization but moves beyond that to change death-oriented reality. Being-at-one shares itself and realizes itself in the ways of resistance. Dorothee Soelle
Lent is always a fruitful time for me, a time to reset my focus and reestablish practices that nourish my soul. Prayer is at the top of my priorities, not just during Lent but always. For me, it is the key to being able to face today’s painful realities without succumbing to anxiety, denial, avoidance, cultural accommodation, and despair.
This morning I awoke to another four inches of snow that had fallen on top of the previous layers. I spent time in prayer while looking out on the scene of birds and squirrels happily eating the seed and bread crumbs I had just scattered. My prayer turned from awe to lament to gratitude to intercession to “resting in the stillness and submerging myself in it” (Dom Helder Camara). But even as the beauty and presence of God in creation consoles me, I am aware of the groans of creation in our time.
The degradation of the natural world and the associated suffering of human beings, especially those who are most vulnerable, are painful topics. It might seem easier to avoid them. Facing the reality of our time is a mixed blessing, but denial takes away our ability to grow spiritually through this terrifying time.
The season of Lent an opportunity to accompany Jesus on his journey to the cross, to recall the story of his life and passion for the reign of God, to witness the religious and political authorities conspire against him, to “stay awake” with him as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, and to stand with him in his suffering. Facing the suffering of Jesus enables us to face our own suffering, the suffering of our human family, and the suffering of creation.
The late German feminist theologian Dorothee Solle pointed out that so much damage has been done to the earth that our ability to celebrate God through creation with our “original amazement” is hindered: “Mystical spirituality of creation will very likely move deeper and deeper into the dark night of being delivered into the hands of the principalities and powers that dominate us. For it is not only the poor man from Nazareth who is tortured together with his brothers and sisters on the cross, it is also our mother earth herself.”
Solle, one of my favorite theologians, then speaks of letting go of bondage to today’s “consumer culture and plundering” and links “letting go” to “resistance.” She explains that for her, resistance means compassion and justice, living in God, and changing the world. She says, “The concept of resistance that meets us in many places of mystical tradition is broad and diverse. It begins with not being at home in this world of business and violence.”
Scripture presents this as a struggle:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication” (Eph 6: 10-18).
It may be easy to imagine “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” as demons or spirits just floating around in the air. But my concern is how these forces are embodied in actual institutions and systems that dominate the world, how they manifested in Jesus’s time, and how they manifest today. In contemporary language: the Powers that Be.
Engaging the institutional powers involves a struggle not simply against their harmful outward manifestations but also against our tendency to internalize their values and be swallowed up in their milieu. Our struggle against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” is not simply external, for all of us participate to some degree in the powers that are manifest in the outer world, and our inner landscape is a microcosm that encompasses the whole.
We are called to exercise our freedom in Christ as we relate to the powers, calling them back to their rightful role as servants, rather than as dominators, of life. In this way, by living in creative resistance to anything that engenders futility and oppression, grounded in God’s love, and renewed and motivated by the Spirit’s call, we participate in God’s triumph over the powers and principalities in our time.
This post includes an excerpt from Sharon’s book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World (Fortress Press, 2022).
This is the fourth post in a Lenten Series, “Creation, Cross, and The Powers.” The other posts in the series will be linked here as they are published.
- Creation, Cross, and The Powers.
- Extraordinary TemptationsThe Spirituality of an Epoch
- The Spirituality of an Epoch
- Creation: Moving from Awe to Lament to Resistance
- Banking on Our Future as Demythologized Exorcism
For other blog posts by Sharon on the story of Jesus in the Wilderness, see Jesus,Temptation, and Worldly Power and Resisting Cultural Possession.
Follow Sharon’s blog post by signing up at the “Follow” link to the right. Share with the Social Media buttons below. See also a previous Lenten series: A Lenten Call to Resist. Check out Sharon’s books. Contact Sharon to request a complimentary digital chapter of one of her books, to request a presentation, or to order discounted bulk copies of her books.
 . Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry, page 92.
 . Soelle, 197.