By Barb Arland-Fye
An antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah provided me with inspiration for Lent as I prayed Morning Prayer with my husband Steve last Sunday. “Jesus rose early in the morning and went out to a place of solitude, and there he prayed.” In the weeks since the Christmas season ended, the Scriptures seem filled with references to the demands of Jesus’ ministry and his need to slip away to pray.
Bishop Robert Barron, in the introduction to his Lenten Gospel Reflections for this year, reminds us that our 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter imitates Jesus’ time in the desert.
To me, the image of a desert appears as a forlorn place. But entering into that empty, lonely desert — a place of solitude — also provides a means for leaving behind the distractions of the world to focus on something really important, my relationship with God.
Since prayer already is a priority in my life, the desert will have to be a quiet place and time where I simply listen for God’s voice or engage in spiritual reading that facilitates listening. Bishop Barron says the desert is also the place where we must confront our sinfulness and repent, in order that we might find our way back to God. That’s a tall order for someone like me, who tends to approach this penitential season with reluctance. Patience is not one of my virtues!
But I take encouragement from the first reading for Ash Wednesday, from the Book of Joel. “ … Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, offerings and libations for the Lord, your God.”
Focusing on the desert doesn’t lessen the value of the other pillars of Lent, fasting and almsgiving, but hopefully it will enhance my experience of the season and remove any lingering reluctance.
When I asked Steve about his thoughts on Lent, he said he sees the season as a time to prepare for Easter, enough said! It seems to me, though, that we need to be more intentional about how we approach Lent so that our preparation for Easter makes a difference in our lives.
For me, that preparation began with choir practice at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire last Sunday morning. Our director, Ladonna Czachowski, led us through a number of songs we will sing during Lent, and each one made my soul soar.
The combination of lyrics, melodies and singing with the choir inexplicably draws me closer to the Lord. A phrase from the refrain of Dan Schutte’s “Ashes to Ashes” especially uplifted me: “… Ready us to follow the way of your Son, to rise from these ashes, redeemed in the fire of your love.”
Jesus set the example for his disciples, for us, to go to a place of solitude to deepen our relationship with the One who made us and loves us beyond measure. That’s a gift we can give ourselves this Lent.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)