Entering the desert of Lent in a pandemic
As we are now well and truly into the holy season of Lent we may be quite justified in asking the question: are we not already experiencing what it means to be in the desert? Ash Wednesday helped us explore Jesus’ discourse on the three elements of Lent – Fasting, praying and almsgiving (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18), as well as reminding us to “Return with our whole heart” (Joel 12:2) to the Lord. We then heard of Jesus’ preparation for ministry when he was given the time to focus, prepare himself and encounter temptation.
Maybe a way of looking at it is to consider the positives of being driven into the desert. Indeed, the three lockdown experiences we’ve had thrust upon us aren’t the most welcome situations, but the Lenten desert experience is something we embrace each year for our own spiritual wellbeing. In an online article on aleteia.org, Fr Patrick Briscoe OP spoke about some of the scriptural examples to take note of:
Moses – is called by God with the appearance at the burning bush out in the wilderness away from the business of Egyptian life where he receives his mission. The desert to Moses becomes holy ground, it becomes the place of encounter with God.
The people of Israel are led into the desert and it is here that they receive the law from God. They leave Egypt to go and worship God in the wilderness. Despite the struggles of needing food and water, the desert is the place where God teaches them to worship. Scripture says,
In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye. Marvellous deeds are worked for them in the desert” (Deut. 32:10)
John the Baptist – undertakes his ministry in the desert, he is
the voice crying out in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3).
He revels in a life of fasting, prayer and baptising people to prepare them for the arrival of Jesus.
A couple of days into Lent I joked that when NASA placed perseverance on Mars we were being shown the ultimate desert experience as the rover landed slap bang in the middle of a crater. The search for micro-organisms and signs of life nourished from water in the distant past would offer the space agency and humanity answers and hope.
Speaking of water, this Lent for one of our almsgiving initiatives we are encouraging each other to take part in CAFOD’s ‘Walk for Water’ campaign. A few weeks back CAFOD launched a national assembly focusing on the importance of clean and freshwater, now more than ever. Their Lenten campaign is a perfectly proactive and beneficial fundraiser as well as encouraging us to be more aware of our situation in comparison with people such as Abdella in Ethiopia. Please do have a look at the moving account of his 10 hour journey for water up a dangerous cliff face which has been captured with incredible drone footage. Full details can be found at https://cafod.org.uk/Fundraise/Walk-for-Water.
In school we are encouraging our young people and staff to enter into the desert experience in a positive light by taking part in one small daily task. Each day I’m sharing a suggestion that ties in with either prayer, fasting or almsgiving. Grand gestures or gruelling struggles avoiding chocolate aren’t always necessary, as many of our students and yourselves discovered on the house/wellbeing day recently – the small acts of kindness can light up our hearts. Here are a couple of examples of Lenten calendars, but they are very easy to find, Pinterest is particularly full of great ones.
I leave you with this prayer inviting God to be at the centre of our lives.
For each step that we might take
Be our guide, O Lord of life
For each load that we might bear
Be our strength, O Lord of life
For each mountain we might face
Be our power, O Lord of life
For each river that might impede
Be our safety, O Lord of life
For each place where we might rest
Be our peace, O Lord of life
For each sunrise and sunset
Be our joy, O Lord of life
Mr M Robinson