Lent, a time according to the church where we fast, pray, focus on works of love and charity all as a solemn remembrance of the time Jesus spent alone in the wilderness. A time where we are to prepare ourselves for the ministry of God’s Word and where we prepare ourselves to not only preach the Gospels but to live the Gospels just as Jesus did some 2000 years ago. For me, lent this year has been less about the fasting, or the prayer, or the contemplative repentance and loving charity and more a wandering in my own wilderness of emotions, changes and preparation of ministry.
My 2015 was a year of dynamic change, growth, accomplishments, tragic losses, grief and renewal. I began my life as a transitional deacon and my ministry to others and was ordained to priesthood later in the year. I also progressed from postulate to novice and finally to brother in the Dominican Order. I watched my partner and soul mate deteriorate both physical and mentally as he lost his battle with mortality. I cared for my mother as she lay bedridden, her mind becoming confused and spending more and more time in the past until she suddenly and unexpectantly left this plain without saying good bye. I lost one church family, then another only to renew the prior again. I sat lonely, grieving losses, to paralyzed to move forward and rebuild, to hurt to let anyone else in. In the end, I found strength in new beginnings, God gave me someone new to heal my hurt and strength to grow again. This is all what I have reflected on, relived, grieved and celebrated this Lenten season.
As I ponder my Lenten journey, I do not feel as if I have missed the meaning of or failed to journey “the path” to renewal in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, I believe I have walked the path that is the essence of the Lenten journey! Life, like nature’s seasons, is cyclic. The renewal of spring, the growth, hard work and joy of summer, the bounty of the harvest and celebrations of fall, and winter’s waning of life, ending of festivals and hope of spring’s renewal. The end of winter is cold, dark, and dreary. The bounties of the harvest dwindle, holidays are fewer, we hunker down in our homes, nesting in the darkness and think of the past as we wait for the break of spring. Late winter and so too Lent about “me time”; a time to process all that has happen in the previous months, a time to heal, a time to focus on those around us in our nest and a time to plan and change for the new season of growth.
We are told Jesus spent 40 days alone in the wilderness of the desert. It is hard to say if He was truly alone in the “wasteland” of the desert or if he was perhaps just wandering unknown cities, with unknown people, without His friends, family or support network. In either case He was alone with His thoughts, alone with His God, alone with His memories, His knowledge, His experiences, His losses, His wins, His experiences and His emotions. So much learned, so much seen, so many questions, so much hard work to get ready for His ministry; He was baptized and it was time to begin His work, but what did it all mean?
I wonder if Jesus looked to Noah for inspiration. Here was a man with a similarly daunting call from the Creator: “Noah, I want you to build a huge ark, the biggest thing ever build by a human. It must be designed so as to hold a pair of each of the creatures on Earth. You will have to build it with little help while others mock you and think you are crazy. You are to give your life to Me for through you I will save many and renew the Earth.” What torment Noah (and his family) went through to do God’s will, how they must have been derided by others, seen as crazy, trouble makers and even feared by those in power. The agony Noah must have endured as he closed up ship and watch everyone and everything he knew disappear in the chaotic waters. The fear and struggles his family faced as they floated on the vast waters, subject to the winds and currents with no control over their journey and no idea of their destination. The loss of hope as hours became days, days turned into weeks, and weeks extended beyond a month. The wear of daily drudgeries in caring for the ship, the animals, each other and the ever growing “cabin fever”. Will we ever reach land? What will it be like? How will we restart everything? Maybe we are just crazy, perhaps God has forgotten us and will end up just dying alone on this ship. 40 days alone, to think, to exist, to possibly loose hope or loose oneself in the darkness of our own souls.
I wonder if Jesus felt akin to Noah as He walked alone in the confusion of His own journey of questioning, growing and establishing His own faith in God. 40 days of struggling, thinking, arguing, looking temptation and despair in the eye over and over again. Looking out over the chaotic waters of His baptism into the Ministry of God’s word, looking for the simple sign of peace and hope carried in on the wings of the Holy Spirit. 40 long and lonely days and there, on the horizon, hope comes, the sign that God is with Him and His new life is about to begin. The seeds are ready to plant, the work is ready to be done and the harvest will indeed be the reward. It will not be easy, life rarely is, but there is hope, purpose and God will take care of the rest.
This is the truth in Lent. We all struggle, our candle flames flicker in the storms of life, the light seemingly dims as if about to go out but soon flashs back to full brilliance. Like the seasons, our lives wax and wane and wax again; it is an integral part of being human and no one can escape the ebb and flow of the chaotic waters. Noah lived it, the Son of Man lived it and we live it; but just like Noah and Jesus, we are never truly alone. God is always with us, guiding us, caring for us, providing us with people who love us and with whom we can share our lives and who give us hope for the new beginnings. This is the truth in our Lenten journey, it is the hope given us in the word of God, it is the message written in seasonal changes, and is the significance of our liturgical year.