We’ve all heard the saying, “What a difference a year makes!”, but for me this took on new meaning in 2020. When Lent began at the end of February last year, my expectations of a period of reflective preparation for Easter were quickly upended in March when COVID wrought sequestering, masking, and disruption of my daily routines. As part of a church community which celebrates together on Sundays and often connects during the week, I acutely felt the loss of in-person worship, education, and fellowship. And, like it or not, I was challenged to become more reflective about what was truly valuable to me. I learned that material comfort and convenience were much less important than people and relationships. As a result, I’d like to think that I have become a bit more patient, a bit less reactive, and a smidge more spiritual. Perhaps I am not alone.
A year down the threatening road of a menacing pandemic that has killed nearly
half-million of our neighbors, I find myself awakening. Awakening to my assumptions of physical security, to my illusions of being in control of my life, to my expectations for an assured future for myself and my loved ones, to the inequities and injustices in our society. This awakening kindled astute attention to social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing – all to avoid a virus I cannot see. But it also led me to ponder: How awake have I been spiritually? Jesus counseled: “. . . stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42). With chagrin, I have realized that I’ve been much more conscientious towards my body than my soul.
Lent is traditionally a time for spiritual contemplation and renewal. In the February Tartan, Fr. Martin made three excellent suggestions to encourage spiritual renewal:
Ask yourself two questions: What will nurture your own spiritual life and draw you
closer to God? What hinders your spiritual life? Do more of the first and
less of the second.
A little is better than none (e.g., prayer, exercise . . .).
Pray as you are moved to pray, not as you think you ought to pray.
As I contemplated this sage advice, I found myself wondering: Have I been as willing to change my behavior patterns to nurture my relationship with God as much as I have done to elude a virus? Have I distanced myself from those things that hinder my spiritual life with the same fervor I’ve socially distanced? Have I spent as much time attending to my spiritual health as I have my physical well-being? Prayed each day as often as I have washed my hands?
Implicit in these recommendations is a call to action. Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned
Buddhist monk, notes that all religions have devotional and transformational practices.
Devotion involves the intention to follow a practice, seeing its value and orienting oneself
towards it, as I feel drawn to Christ and pronounce myself a Christian. But what of
transformation? “You enter the path of transformation,” the wise monk maintains, “when
you begin to practice the things you pronounce.” For Thich Nhat Hanh, being mindful, a
be-here-now awareness of the present moment, is the key to transformational practice, to
expressing devotion in action. I believe this is what Jesus meant by his counsel to stay
awake: To be awake. I pray that Lent is a time of awakening transformation for each of us,
capped by the miracle of Jesus risen from the grave to bestow new life on us all.