I haven't written about Lent yet. Normally I'd be all over it like white on rice. Or like ashes on a Catholic's forehead the day after Mardi Gras. My feelings about Lent vary from year to year: sometimes I'm really eager for it, and settle right into it; other times I feel as warm and fuzzy toward it as I do a toothache.
Lent is an important beat in the yearly rhythm of our lives. We need this reminder that we are more than body, and that our concerns compass more than this life. Lent then, offers balance and perspective. More than that though, Lent can be an intimate encounter with God. If we take care to ease our busy activities, and hush the frantic noise in our lives, it becomes possible to hear Him.
As part of my Lenten observance, I am reading a book called 'The Hermitage within'. It addresses the vocation (call from God) of actual hermits - those who cast off all earthly pursuits to live in solitude and silence in order to attain holiness - but it also speaks of the need we all have for solitude and silence in our lives. As St. John of the Cross said:
The Father only utters one Word, that is to say, his Son, in a eternity
of silence. He is saying it forever. The soul too must hear it in silence.
(The Hermitage within, pg. 15)
There is a tradition of 'desert' in Catholicism. There was the 40 years pilgrimage in which God led the Hebrews out of slavery; John the Baptist lived in the desert before he began preaching about the coming of Christ; Jesus withdrew to the desert for 40 days, and endured the temptations of Satan; the Desert Fathers of the early Church withdrew to live secluded lives in the desert. There is also a metaphorical understanding of desert - it is an arid state, parched of consolation.
It is the arid and parched I was somewhat dreading this Lent. All of last year was difficult enough, that we (my family and I) felt permission to tread more lightly through the penitential season. No such excuse this year - it's time to stand on my feet again. No more hunching over in protective self-pity.
For you, the desert is not a setting, it is a state of soul. This is
where the difficulty lies. The centre of this solitude is you, in whom the
absence of human beings and human vanities creates a first zone of silence. On
the steppe there is only one sound: the moaning of the wind. 'This is,' runs an
Arabic proverb, 'the desert weeping because it would like to be a meadow.' It is
for you, O arid, waterless land, to beg the Lord to distil His dew on you. Only
the breathing of the Spirit should be heard. (pg. 13-14.)
That is where I will be this Lent - in the desert.
God is bestowing a special favour on you by drawing you into the desert. [...] He is calling you to live on friendly terms with him: to nothing else. (pg. 10)
I pray that you too, will have an experience of solitude and silence in the coming days.