So busy! Too busy! We all say it, and we all struggle to work out why, and what we can do about it.
Lent is meant to be a time of tranquil reflection upon our lives and the possible meaning of our faith in the midst of it all.
Here we are ‘in the midst’ alright—more or less in the middle of Lent, and yet it feels like we are nowhere near Easter. If I think about how soon it is, I am overwhelmed by the sense of how much has to be done before then, and that brings me back to the sense of ‘So busy. Too busy!’
Interestingly, the Gospel readings for this part of the year, in this Year of Luke’, locate us in what is called the ‘Journey Narrative’ part of the Third Gospel. So at Chapter 9. v 51 we read that ‘Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem’.
What is especially interesting and challenging in this narrative, though, is that he does not make any apparent progress for 9 chapters, and appears to ‘wander around’ the area, not progressing to Jerusalem—and when he does arrive somewhere, in Chapter 19, it is Jericho, a centre of Roman power, not Jerusalem. He does not make it to Jerusalem till Chapter 20. So for 10 of the 24 chapters of Luke’s narrative, the ‘journey’ seems to be making no progress at all.
This I think is spiritually significant. It is perhaps reminiscent of the ‘wilderness wanderings’ of the people following Moses, in their journey towards freedom and the ‘Promised Land’.
Luke’s narrative seems to suggest, though, that there is a lot going on even when it seems no progress is being made. That’s the Lenten Reflection here—with the challenge to look at our wanderings rather differently.
What do we do in the ‘middle’ of Lent, while we wait? Here I suggest a number of things are possible and may be helpful to us:
- It is worth affirming that we are in the middle of something more than we can see or know. Our lives are like this in many ways: this is very evident when someone we know dies suddenly, or we find we have an illness or disease we did not see coming on. Life is much more than we know. There is more depth to things than we see, often. We have the love of family and the care of friends, but so often we take it for granted and do not see it. There is far more meaning and depth, potential (and risk) than we usually see. That is not a fault, necessarily. But it is good to realise it, at this time.
- In this ‘wandering and wondering’ time, it is good to review the last year or so, and consider all that has been given to us from our past. Even in what we called last time the ‘long littleness’ of life, there is a strong thread of gift: we have received so much of life and love, friendship and encouragement, along with the challenges and disappointments. It is all a basis for moving ahead, learning and growing.
- Then, too, in this waiting time we can imagine. What a gift imagination is! And how tragic that it is so often absent from our spiritual experiences. I saw a Facebook post the other day disparaging religious groups as disputing over whose ‘imaginary friend’ was more powerful than the others’. Well, I am happy to acknowledge that in faith there is a vital element of the imaginary. If only there was more: imagining a better world, a world where love rather than power was the dominant concern of us all. There’s a wonderful website provided by the Irish Jesuits called ‘Sacred Space’, which provides a pattern for daily prayer and reflection. Its centre-piece is an invitation to imagine you are sitting one-on-one with Jesus, and in that space you can say whatever you want to. This kind of imagination is really challenging, not delusionary. And in this time of imagination, it is also helpful to try to imagine his feelings, expectations and anticipations. What was it like for Jesus to ‘set his face towards Jerusalem’? Surely a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, along with some idea of objective and commitment. And as I think about that, I imagine too that he was hopeful (perhaps in spite of the appearances to date) that his supporters might finally come through and be helpful, understand and stick with him. And if he was hoping for that, how does that apply to me or to us?
- Then, I think too that this time of waiting, wandering and wondering is a a good time to look around the world, near and far, and to recognize just how much anguish and ambiguity and absurdity there is. It is not all sweetness and light, and no one should pretend. Governments promise so much and deliver so little. Wealth and ‘progress’ is at best ambiguous, and has brought so much suffering to others, and to the earth. I find myself wondering: How will it come to an end, all this hate and suffering and injustice? What will be the result, the outcome? And given that, where have I set my face? Am I indeed just wandering, or is there some progress going on here, perhaps not according to geographical or economic measures, but in some other way? Or is that, too, an escape from the reality that we must go to ‘Jerusalem’ and must confront the powers of empire and temple, and go beyond both to a new way, where love overcomes might, even death? What does that mean for me, here and now, in the midst of it all, all this wandering?