God is good. As we lean into Lent, we all have been changed by this desert experience. Two years of pandemic living have alternately trudged past and flown by us. Bishop Peter Fenty asked at the beginning of the pandemic, “How can we show love for our neighbour? I show love by wearing a mask to protect the vulnerable.” Two years in, we show love by getting vaccinated, still wearing a mask, still distancing and still consciously choosing how we will (or won’t) get together for worship, for community, for essential relationship building, for maintaining physical, spiritual, mental health.
This requirement to choose, for our physical health, has taken a drastic toll on our individual and collective mental health. We have personally experienced and witnessed other people, both those dear to us and those in the larger population, suffering from increased anxiety, depression, social phobias and extreme isolation and loneliness.
The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness; we have been changed already because of this global two-year desert experience. Some slow but steadily working solace for your soul from our brother Jesus in Matthew 5, the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
We often consider Lent to be a time of looking inwards. As Jesus taught us to look to the marginalized, the little ones, we also are called to look outwards, to see with our hearts. What happens when we don’t like what we see? It can be too simple, and not even realistic, to say “change.” When outside pressures are forcing us to change in ways we wouldn’t normally choose, some instinctually get along, learn to adapt, look up to see the bigger picture.
For others — and for a little piece inside most of us — it is in our nature to rebel, revolt, complain, act out, sometimes to overlook our responsibilities to the good of the larger whole in the process. Exodus 16 comes to mind, when the Israelites were complaining to Moses and Aaron, complaining about how long the trek across the desert was taking, complaining about the food, complaining about their siblings, their neighbours, the snakes, themselves. It is captured well in this verse: “Then the whole community of Israelites began complaining again.” It is for our learning that St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians 5:22 & 23, reminds Christ-followers: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
As I am writing this, we are seeing small groups of horn-honking, loud-voiced citizens protesting the vaccine mandates in cities and at the borders across our part of Turtle Island. That question comes to mind again: how can we show love for our neighbour? As Jesus experienced in the desert,
so also are we tempted by the Adversary to be afraid, to act out of fear, to be divided and separated from one another. We are tempted to act selfishly, sometimes violently, to consider only our own desires and needs, to hunker down and narrow our vision so that we see only the next steps immediately ahead of us. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Will you be called to action by this teaching of Jesus?
Be assured, God is with us in this time of trial. We are not alone. This is an invitation to come together, in real life or virtually, to integrate our needs for self-care, care of others, and especially our striving for God. It is in uniting together in relationship that we see the face of God and hear God’s voice. Teachings from the Desert Mothers and Fathers, from the mystics and the spiritual giants of our Christian faith traditions, and from other wise teachers can help us to see the light of Christ shining in the darkness, to come to life in new hope, to act with courage and love, and especially to be the change we wish to see in our world.