Lent can make you appreciate the length of a lived-out 40: Christ’s 40 day fast, Noah’s 40 day float trip, Israel’s 40 days of wilderness wandering.
Forty days takes discipline and desire, and it helps to know going in that there will come a point where you might just want to quit.
I’ve found it helpful to have at least one Lenten read of the practical, “here”s-something-you-can-do-now” sort, a book that “puts feet to your prayers,” as a friend likes to remind me. This year that book in my Lenten stack is Fr. Michael Gaitley’s You Did It to Me: A Practical Guide to Mercy in Action.
Gaitley is adept at making theological concepts understandable and down-to-earth practical, beginning with his wonderful guide to Christ’s Sacred Heart, Consoling the Heart of Jesus and continuing with 33 Days to Morning Glory and his most recent release, on the Little Way of St. Thérèse, 33 Days to Merciful Love, (which may not be the most poetic, but it’s the most practical of all the books I’ve read on the Little Way so far). I recommend them all.
You Did It To Me leads us into the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, but in a direct and simple way, using Christ’s words in Matthew 25 as its primary organizing text: “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was sick and in prison and you visited me.”
Gaitley’s ideas are so doable that it’s hard not to walk away inspired after even a page. He even offers checklists to expand your vision of what’s possible and to remind you to “put feet to your prayers.”
I found the section on developing a merciful outlook particularly helpful, and Gaitley is quick to add that this outlook is neither overspiritualized nor proselytizing nor patronizing. Rather, he insists:
The outlook I’m describing…responds to suffering. In fact, it’s a compassionate response to what’s probably the most universal and deepest human suffering, namely existential loneliness….it sees the good in others and draws it out…loving others with the heart of Christ, because each of us is a member of his Body and thus shares the same Heart with him.
“Phony smiles that say ‘you’re just so special!’ (gag) do not work,” Gaitley continues (and here I’m reminded of Brené Brown’s hilarious video on the difference between empathy and sympathy). It is opening oneself up to experience “felt delight” in the image of God in every person we encounter.
This thought opens the door to the truth that we were made for others, joining Christ’s mission by lovingly embracing the truth that He came not be served, but to serve. Christ is drawing us closer to His heart as we open our hearts to His woundedness in both ourselves and in those we encounter each day.
Growing in the merciful outlook extends Christ’s reach into the hearts of others, and each of us will discover a unique purpose for our lives as we learn to walk this “little way.”
Inspired by You Did It to Me, I applied my second tip for Lenten times of flagging zeal: create a playlist full of music that shifts the mood and reminds you you’re not alone.
I’m sharing my latest Lenten playlist with you.
Brother’s Keeper is an eclectic mix of upbeat and mellow, sacred and secular songs that return my heart to my intention of developing a merciful outlook and putting feet to my prayers. Its title comes from the Rich Mullins album and song by the same name, in which he sings:
I will be my brother’s keeper
Not the one who judges him
I won’t despise him for his weakness
I won’t regard him for his strength.
The list starts off, however, with another Mullins tune from the Brother’s Keeper album: “Quoting Deuteronomy to the Devil,” a take on Christ’s wilderness fast (the gospel for the first Sunday in Lent). This heightens our awareness of the struggle ahead and strenghtens us for the battle that always comes when we draw nearer to Christ.
One of my favorites comes just a few tunes later: Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I?” This simple song is a serious examination of conscience, urging the listener to open up more deeply to the truth that we must be “doers of the word and not hearers only.”
What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say if I look right through you…
If I just turn away like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?
That’s followed by John Mellencamp’s tragic song “Jackie Brown,” an accoustic ballad bringing the face of the struggling poor before us with hearbreaking tenderness. This song challenges us to see people instead of problems and to enter their pain before it’s too late.
Interspersed throughout the list’s portraits of humanity in beauty and pain (don’t miss Bruce Springsteen’s “Jack of All Trades,” Los Lobos’ “Little John of God” and Kevin Heider’s haunting “The Dark Side”) are releases from Matt Maher (“Firelight”), Audrey Assad (“Little Things with Great Love”) and Danielle Rose (“You Did It to Me”)–each a tribute to Mother Teresa, whose merciful outlook changed the world.
Music that makes the toes tap is only that unless the heart is moved enough to urge us to rise up do something tangible to bring Christ to our families, our neighbors, our colleagues, those who sit by us in church and those we stand next to in the line at the grocery store. This is music for anyone who wants to be an instrument of God’s love.
It’s music that moves us forward, as Tracy Chapman urges in “Change”:
If you knew that you would die today
If you saw the face of God and love
Would you change?
Would you change?
This playlist ends with For King and Country’s rousing “Proof of your Love,” a prayer that would change the world if we took it seriously. The world is riddled with bad examples calling themselves Christian. It’s time to lean a little more lovingly into the universal call to holiness, putting feet to our prayers and becoming for the people nearest to us, the proof of His love.
You can find and follow Brother’s Keeper on Spotify here. I hope these songs lift your heart and direct your eyes to those around you through the heart of Christ, who “pitched his tent among us.”
Thanks in advance for following and stay tuned! Closer to Holy Week I’ll share another playlist of songs focusing on the passion of the humble Christ.
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What songs help you see others with fresh eyes of mercy? Please share in the comments below or email email@example.com. I’m always looking for good music to include in my next playlist. And if you know someone who’d like Brother’s Keeper, please share Sparrowfare!
From the Sparrowfare archives:
- Grant Me the Grace to Hurt Like Rich Mullins
- Beyond the Résumé and the Eulogy: Virtue, the Little Way
- Unselfconscious Icons: The Hidden Power of a Good Example in an Age of Bluster and Bling
- Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: How Music Helps Us Rise When All We Want to Do is Quit
Seriously, this video (also linked above) will boost your empathy quotient in three minutes. Bonus: it will also make you laugh (because you’ll see yourself).