LENT: CREATING A DESERT SPACE IN OUR OVERCROWDED LIVES
mother camel and her baby are talking one day and the baby camel asks, "Mom why have we got these huge three-toed feet?" The mother replies, "To enable us trek across the soft sand of the desert without sinking." "And why have we got these long, heavy eyelashes?" "To keep the sand out of our eyes on the trips through the desert "replies the mother camel. "And Mom, why have we got these big humps on our backs?" The mother, now a little impatient with the boy replies, "They are there to help us store fat for our long treks across the desert, so we can go without water for long periods."
"OK, I get it!" says the baby camel, "We have huge feet to stop us sinking, long eyelashes to keep the sand from our eyes and humps to store water. Now, Mom, why the heck are we here in the Zoo?"
Modern life sometimes makes one feel like a camel in a zoo. And like camels in a zoo we need sometimes to go into the desert in order to discover who we truly are. Lent invites us to enter into this kind of desert experience.
It began on Ash Wednesday in ashes and it journeys through darkness. It is a spiritual pilgrimage that I am convinced we must make one way or another for genuine spiritual renewal to come. Through prayers that allow us to give up ourselves, we can seek and open ourselves up before God and hear anew the call "Come unto me!"
We can seek to recognize and respond afresh to God's presence in our lives and in our world. We can seek to place our needs, our fears, our failures, our hopes, and our lives in His hands again. And we can seek by abandoning ourselves in Jesus' death and by recognizing God again. It is a call into the spiritual desert.
The desert was the birthplace of the people of God of the first covenant. The Hebrew people who escaped from Egypt as scattered tribes arrived the Promised Land as one nation under God. It was in the desert that they become a people of God by covenant.
In the course of their history when their love and faithfulness to God grew cold, the prophets would suggest their return to the desert to rediscover their identity, their vocation and their mission as a way of reawakening their faith and strengthening their covenant relationship with God.
The great prophets Elijah and John the Baptist were people of the desert: they lived in the desert, ate desert food and adopted a simple desert lifestyle. The desert is the university where God teaches His people.
This is season in my Orthodox Christian journey that has traditionally been marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Many other Christian traditions do not place as great an emphasis on fasting, but focus on charitable deeds, especially helping those in need with food and clothing or by simply giving money to charity organizations.
Most Christian churches that observe this time of lent focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance - repentance for failures and sins and as a way to focus on the need for God's grace.
Lent is really a preparation to celebrate God's marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians. It is a time to place ourselves before God in humility.
It is a way to confess our total inadequacy before Him; a way to strip ourselves of all pretenses to righteousness; a way to come before God in dust and ashes. It is a way to empty ourselves of false pride, rationalizations that prevent us from seeing ourselves as needy creatures and "perfectionist" tendencies that blind us to the "beam" in our own eyes.