Wilderness, desert, place apart. Lent invites us to embark on a journey that removes us from the multiplicity of distractions and involvements – even in brief snatches. Through the practices of diving deep into prayer, committing to a fasting that removes the superfluous and reminds us of the central, and reaching out in love and alms without condition or counting to others, we willingly embark on the path. We sign our consent to keep company with Jesus, to be transformed.
A couple of weeks ago, reflecting on the book of Hosea with a group, we looked together at the active words in a section of Hosea 2/3. There God allures, leads, speaks, gives, removes idols, makes covenant, espouses-espouses-espouses, sows, has pity, names. We respond and we call, and we respond again. It is God who acts, who unerringly finds places and spaces in our life experiences where we can better hear and respond: often wild places, dry places, remote places. These become, as in Hosea, doors of hope.
Lent is a calendar place and space, and one we collaborate with by entering. We are allured, but we also compose and dispose ourselves to presence by the practices Ash Wednesday traces. Like the early disciples, we show up. Like those who companioned Jesus on the roads of Palestine, we are often clueless as to the curriculum, the transformation, the path we are on. Still, our remaining with him matters. And that is Lent. We choose to come and to remain, as we are. Wonders can then occur, beyond our reckoning, our recognizing, even our sight in this lifetime.
Though spring seems still far off in the mid-Atlantic of late, hope does not disappoint, for there is an unerring pull toward life and growth that is part and parcel of this world, this universe we inhabit. The smallest seed holds potential for something amazing to emerge that is not evident in its small encasing.
God brings us, allures us, to wildernesses and deserts so that we can recover our first loves, our enthusiasms, our joy, as disciples and loved ones. God invites us so that we can remember what is core and release our desperate grasping at what was never ours to hold onto to begin with. God wakes us to our sisters and brothers – on the verge of war, on the streets we pass, in the house next door, sitting at our tables and workplaces – with needs we can and must attend to, if we truly believe we are all one, are all God’s, are all amazing stardust, are all beloved ones. Resurrection impulse leads to life, and we are all to not just believe in, but practice resurrection, as poet Wendell Barry told us.
As Lent begins, we are well reminded today (Ash Wednesday) by Pope Francis that “in the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love of God, in order to experience his tenderness.” It is God’s tenderness which surrounds us and which is transformative. Our job is to show up and to stay put in God’s presence, and to imitate the love and tenderness we meet there in our interactions with each other, most especially with those in need. Our remaining matters. So, what to do for Lent?
Enter, remain, collaborate. Respond, call, respond. Wake, remember, release. Allow, be embraced, be open. Imitate, give, serve. Turn, repent, rethink. Practice, quiet, pray. We can trust the process we enter, the path we’re on, and the One who works our transformation – whether or not we understand, perhaps even better when we do not and cannot. Let us come to Lent, stay put, encounter faithfulness (our God), learn to love, and be shaped further into love in the ways our Lord knows best.
Mayhap you’ve seen these words of Catherine of Siena recently on social media: “We’ve been deceived by the thought that we would be more pleasing to God in our own way than in the way God has given us.” They strike as true. Trust your transformation and your path to our good God, the shape and pattern of your growth to Christ’s safekeeping, but keep collaborating and watching. God guides all paths, and will guide these 40 days. Celebrate the work of grace – the Spirit’s creativity – in you and in the world… and pray, fast, give.