This year, our Lenten journey can take on deeper meaning

A pair of hands hoving over the keyboard of a laptop
 on March 1, 2021

I gaze out my living room picture window at a snowy landscape. The frigid scene seems to mirror my spirit.

It has been a long winter, its length stretched by news that numbs us: the daily COVID-19 death tally, today’s case count and frustration at being isolated as if under “house arrest.” And this is only the news deemed newsworthy. I’ve just edited a book about the other pandemic, happening beneath the headlines: the poverty pandemic, involving roughly five million Canadians, with a million reliant on foodbank handouts, living in shabby housing and facing bleak futures. I’ve always been a news junkie but I’ve cut back on following the news. One can only absorb so much.

Then I crouch down at a low table in front of that sun-drenched picture window and fill 10 small clay pots with earth. I carefully put three or four tomato seeds in each one, press each seed into the soil, then gently water them.

And wait.

Waiting is tough at the best of times, at least for an impatient guy like me who doesn’t relax easily. Nowadays, waiting is even harder. We’re waiting to get our long-awaited vaccine shot. We’re waiting for life to return to normal with the small pleasures we took for granted before COVID-19 snatched them away. We’re waiting for spring, when life seems easier and warmth invigorates our mood. As we wait, it’s easy for anxiety and fear to creep in.

Is it possible to think of this period of enforced waiting, when we are involuntary monks of a sort, as an invitation into the life of the Spirit? Accepting that invitation is difficult. As a lifelong social activist, contemplation does not come easy to me. Perhaps you’re in the same boat. We’re resistant to the inner life because we’re wrapped up with the issues we see in society – in the outer life – that demand our response.

American theologian Howard Thurman caught the essence of this dilemma in his poem, “How Good to Center Down!”

How good it is to center down!
To sit quietly and see ones self pass by!
The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;
Our spirits resound with clashings, with noisy silences,
While something deep within hungers and thirsts
For the still moment and the resting lull.

Our Lenten journey this year can take on deeper meaning, if we accept God’s invitation and find that still point within our souls. Doing so can help us think about our fear in new ways. Yes, it’s understandable to worry about the future in these uncertain times, when so many have had their livelihoods and health harmed by the pandemic, or even lost their lives. Yet fear does nothing to stop bad things from occurring. But it can paralyze us.

Entering into the Spirit more deeply can help us come to grips with the reality of suffering in our world – not to burden our spirits even more than they already are, but to be aware that suffering is part of our human condition, and an integral part of the Christian story. Sometimes it’s easy to be so focussed on the resurrection that we gloss over the reality of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and what he endured leading up to his crucifixion.

Contemplation can help us to take the long view, to see beyond the challenges of today, towards a brighter future. And move into action. Every positive action we take, no matter how seemingly tiny, can bear fruit – whether it’s planting seeds that will grow into lush plants, getting outdoors to bolster our health and spirits by enjoying God’s creation, using the miracle of technology to connect with friends online, or writing letters to friends without computers.

Spring is traditionally a time of rebirth, imbued for us as Christians with deeper meaning as we celebrate new life through the resurrection. Let’s not pass up this opportunity, both for ourselves and our hurting world. To paraphrase Bruce Cockburn, let’s dig deep into our faith to kick at the darkness of our times ‘til it bleeds daylight.


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