When we were born, the first thing we most likely heard was the soft, sweet voice of our mothers. It was tender and comforting, the beautiful song that had carried us in the womb; and when we heard it we knew we were safe. As we grew, we learned the sound of other voices from family and friends, music and media. One day, we discovered the quiet voice of God, speaking to our inner self, helping us to understand our identity and our worth. It taught us how to choose which voices to follow and how we would respond to those voices through our daily living.
Lent: A Lonely Time of Desert Days
In this world of media overload and instant information, there are so many “truths” competing for our attention. With all these voices calling out, all these opinions trending our way, how do we as Catholics sift through the clutter of culture in order to hold onto the one voice speaking truth into our lives? It isn’t easy. We have been told over and over that truth is relative and that one way of thinking is just as valid as any other. This destructive narrative has infiltrated our society to such an extent that even some Christians have begun to believe the babble as it drowns out the voice of the Gospel.
The result is that absolute truth becomes a myth; life becomes a random series of events, and meaning falls into a pit of mediocrity and transitory pleasure. As followers of Jesus, we must seek the still small voice of the One who calls out to us in the wilderness of our hearts. This passage through the desert of Lent to the days of the Resurrection is the perfect time to do this. During the season of Lent, we spend time away from the world in meditation. We deny ourselves certain everyday pleasures so that we may more fully focus on the messages of hope and healing that this sacred season speaks to us. As we come to understand the distinctive voice of our Lenten journeys, we can more fully live out our faith as individuals and as a Church.
In some ways, Lent is meant to be a lonely time, filled with solitary days of desert journeying, a period of searching for the still small voice of God. This time of fasting and prayer calls us to seek the place that is somewhere in between the safety of comfort and the gloom of pain and despair. Understanding how to navigate this journey takes a serious spiritual commitment and a desire to dig deeper into God’s Word.
Elijah and the Still, Small Voice
Consider, for example, the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19). Elijah was a man who experienced the power of God speaking mightily through the great confrontation with the ministers of Baal. Whereas the god of this world was hard of hearing, the God of Elijah listened to the prophet’s prayer and answered with a blast of holy fire to incinerate his water-soaked sacrifice (1 Kings 18:20-40). Elijah, in defeating the prophets of Baal, was at the height of his prophetic mission; and yet the voice of one wicked woman caused him to flee into the desert to despair of ever finding joy again (vv. 19:1-4).
So God called Elijah to a cave on the mount where Moses had received the sacred Law in order to speak new life into His weary servant. The Lord sent a powerful wind, a thundering earthquake, and a consuming fire; and yet His voice was absent in those great signs. It was in the gentle whisper of a word that all the doubt and pain Elijah was experiencing lay exposed before the God of truth (vv. 9-13). There, in that holy, pregnant pause, God chose to show Himself to Elijah, and Elijah was brought to His knees in trembling and awe!
Lent is like that. It calls us to come away from the cacophony of confusing voices drowning in our ears to sit in the desert of our dependency and indecision until we hear the beautiful whispers of holy submission and surrender. Like the symbolic smudge on our forehead from Ash Wednesday, we stand before God, mere dust and ashes, knowing that every breath we take is by the Will of the Almighty.
Turning Doubt to Determination, Despair to Desire
Lent is meant to call us away from our familiar worlds to those desert places in our souls, where our empty words fall short, where distractions melt away, and where all that we are is laid bare before eternity. In that time of quiet contemplation, we learn once again to reject the siren call of the world and to listen to the murmurings of the Holy Spirit. There we find courage and conviction, comfort and consolation, nurturing and nourishment. It is only when we come into those empty places of surrender and lay our burdens before the One who is our soul’s satisfaction that we finally experience what Lent is all about.
So often, we find ourselves doubting who we are and forgetting what Christ has done for us. Sometimes it is a brother or sister in the Church who speaks a judgmental word and causes us to have misgivings about our faith. Other times our failures may call out, reminding us that we are weaklings who wear our false faces before a disapproving world.
But in the wilderness experience that is Lent, the soft promptings of the Holy Spirit can call us once more outside our little compartmentalized and conditioned worlds to the place where He can whisper His truth into our souls. In that vulnerable space we rejoice because we are assured that when we are weak, through Christ, we are strong. As we touch the Love that bled and died for us on the cross, our hearts are stirred by purest love, and we bury our sinful infirmities in forgiveness. In the strength of this desert journey, we rise up from our dark caves of doubt and despair, eager to answer the call to new roads of joyful service for the Kingdom.
The Journey to Resurrection
The Scriptures of Lent speak through the ages to remind us of the transforming power of this journey to resurrection. The triumph over temptation Our Lord experienced during His forty days in the wilderness shows us that our sustenance is found not in the World but in the Word, that the God who cannot be put to the test will see us through each trial, and that all the power and wealth of the world are mere grains of sand on the scales of the One who calls us to weigh the cost of servanthood and salvation.
The many Gospel stories we hear in our worship that speak of teaching, testing and triumph are our gateway to the mind and heart of the Suffering Servant who gave up His throne to wear our skin and take our place of punishment. In a lonely upper room, we are fed the Bread of Life and hear the final words of a tender teacher preparing us for the struggles ahead. Each condemning voice shouting, “Crucify!” sounds surprisingly like our own; and yet we hear our Savior saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
The journey to the place of the Skull, the cumbersome Cross, the piercing nails, and the thorny crown – all heavy burdens – are made light by the perfect love that bore them all. As the sky darkens and the curtain is torn in two, the tomb sealed and the darkest day done, our sin is buried with the One who has paid the deepest debt, and the way to heaven is opened up to for us to enter in triumphant joy. In the journey from eternity past to eternal present, the sinless sacrifice is re-presented in our worship and meditations and made alive in our hearts as we walk through the final days of Lent.
Individual Journeys Become Communal Journeys
As individuals, our Lenten journeys serve to build our spiritual stamina and bring deeper clarity to our lives. As we carry these life lessons into the fellowship of the community, we deepen our commitment to Christ and grow stronger as we serve one another and join in our shared transformation as the People of God. This overflows into the ways in which we reach out to our neighbors and to all who are lost and looking for salvation.
As the Church, we experience the presence of Christ during the days of Holy Week as we come face to face with the awesome truth that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. And on Resurrection Sunday we celebrate the power of Christ’s rising and the hope it brings to the world. We come out of our desert days renewed and ready to go out into all the world to make disciples and to build the Kingdom of God.
The world may call us to hide from our pain and our pain may cause us to withdraw from the world. Lent gives us the strength to face our trials and to see the truth of who we are. These weeks spent in fasting and prayer teach us the proper perspective of what resurrection living is all about. When all seems dry, when better days seem distant, and when suffering is overwhelming, the power of our Lenten wilderness experience allows us to touch eternity through our self-denial as we surrender to the Savior who carried our sorrows and nailed them to the Cross.
The Daily Surrender
In Lent, we see the love of the Father who sent His Son for our salvation. We see in Jesus, the One who holds our hearts in His hands and calls us to walk the road of temptation and trial toward the dawn of His Resurrection. In this holy discipline, our focus is brought back to our true purpose as a People of God and we share in the journeys of others who too are walking the path toward salvation. United in the vision and voice of this sacred season, our passage through life becomes a daily surrender to that still small voice that is heard above all other voices thundering for our attention.
May these closing days of Lent bring you into a deeper and more intimate relationship with the One who loved us to the last! God bless!