Sunday, March 5, 2017

The original 40 days of Lent

I don't know about you, but I've never really given a lot of thought to the original Lent, the forty days when the holiest of holy men walked into a desert to spend time with God. It seems to be what was needed before Christ embraced his mission to teach us all about how love and the suffering that comes with it bring us to resurrection and deeper love.

In Jesus' day, going out to the desert was a practice mostly undertaken by the Essenes, a sect in Roman-occupied Palestine who embraced simplicity, prayer and fasting as a way of life. John the Baptist probably "trained" in that tradition, and it's clear that the average Jane and Joe of his time looked at the desert-dwellers as either really holy or really crazy people. You can tell from Jesus' comments about John (Matthew 11:18). Going into the desert wasn't something taken lightly -- a certain reputation came with it.

What exactly does one do in a desert for forty days? No one really knows what Jesus did with his forty-day "time away from it all retreat." I can't begin to imagine fasting or praying for that long, so I guess that's why this video with Matt Maher's song, 40 Days, caught my attention. Kudos to the video creators!

To be honest, I didn't really like it when I first saw it a few weeks ago, but after listening to the gospel reading this morning, I had to find it and watch it again and rehear the lyrics... and now something in me has changed.

The images, while simplistic, touch something fundamental about the meaning of Lent. It is a time apart from the ordinary, an opportunity for silence, solitude and simplicity. The image that stays with me the most is Christ on his belly in the dust, watching a flower grow, probably in deep conversation with the One who made the flower.

What will you do in the desert for these 40 days?

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