By Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH
[Readings: Genesis 9: 8-15; Ps. 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15]
As you contemplate the season of Lent, you might consider reflecting on its meaning to you now as well as at other times in your life. For me, growing up in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, Lent was a time set aside for repentance, for “giving up” things that I liked, such as desserts or movies or even the sleep I could have had if I didn’t attend daily Mass.
In the parochial school I attended, participation in the weekly Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoons was mandatory, thus adding to the sense of obligation. While even then I appreciated the sacred nature of Lent experienced through the “smells and bells” of the pre-Vatican II Church, the emphasis was on self-denial and sinfulness. The season often seemed interminable, oppressive and stark.
Today, Lent is a time that I actually look forward to, as the season seems to invite me to deeper contemplation. My focus is not on deprivation, but on deepening my relationship with Jesus through prayer. I think the change occurred when I started to go on weekend and then week-long silent retreats each year. At first, these retreats truly felt like desert experiences. Even though there were 30 or 40 other people in the retreat house, we passed our time (and each other) in silence. Time took on a whole different feeling, with no particular structure to the day. All the familiar distractions of television, email, internet browsing, phone calls etc, had been left behind.
In that environment, I was tempted to throw myself into reading the many spiritual books in the library, but I had a graced insight that this would only be a further distraction. So I entered into what at first seemed like the unwelcome, solitary work of looking deeply into my own heart and mind, asking myself where I was in relationship to God, and what I (and God) wanted that relationship to be.
At first, this situation seemed almost as frightening as facing any amount of wild desert beasts. I was not sure I wanted to head in this direction, and was afraid of what I might hear as answer in prayer. But with trust in God and the patience of a skilled spiritual director, I was able to pass out of that narrow, somewhat desolate place in which I found myself. What opened up for me was an abundance of new life.
The God who made a covenant with each of us waits for us to approach. The psalmist reminds us that God’s ways are love and truth, that God is kind and full of compassion, desiring to guide us through our own personal and communal wildernesses. With humility and trust, perhaps we can all spend some sacred time with God this Lent, knowing that God will provide us with what we need.
Give yourself permission to carve out some time each day for prayer. Give it whatever time you can, although 30 minutes or more is desirable.
You can pray with the scripture passages of the day, or with the many fine Lenten reflection books and guides that are available. You can also simply pray from your own experience.
Tell God what is on your mind and in your heart. Be sure to include a time of interior silence to listen to what God is saying to you. Sometimes, just resting in the presence of God is the best prayer.