Last year at this time, I was presenting at two parishes outside Ottawa; St. Mary’s in Chesterville and St. Daniel in South Mountain. The theme for these Lenten reflection days was “You Call us to the Desert.” Little did we know on these days at the end of February and beginning of March, we would be called to a whole new desert experience. The pandemic was just coming into our consciousness.
I loved the theme of these retreats. This is exactly what Jesus is modelling for us with his 40 day fast in the desert or Noah with 40 days on the ark. We are being called to renewal, to transformation. God is inviting us to step back and reorient ourselves. At the retreat, we spoke about isolation. The desert is a very isolating place. Jesus was isolated, away from his community for forty days and the Gospel describes how he was tempted. Many of us have felt isolated during this pandemic. But, just as God is faithful to the covenant with Noah and all living creatures, Jesus is true to his purpose and service to his Father. He resists temptation and leaves the desert experience to proclaim the Good News.
Being in isolation makes us all too aware of our need for community and for our personal and communal renewal. With Christ as our guide, we see that transformation is there for us. We are called to a transformation that is authentic and meaningful to our lives. Ultimately, we are called to the newness that resurrection brings. There are many ways that we will achieve a metanoia and as Lucinda Williams sings “Get right with God.” Our tradition promotes the practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Forty days of a greater effort to mindfully pursue these would definitely lead to transformation.
My favourite Lenten hymn is Ashes by Tom Conry. It speaks of all that this liturgical season is calling me to be:
Lent is a time in the liturgical year when we are called to step back and create ourselves anew. It is an opportunity to reconcile our relationships with each other, with the wider community, with creation and with God. How do we create ourselves anew at such a challenging time? We go to the source, we find God in the desert. We step back and take a look at ourselves and the world around us, listen for God’s voice and follow our hearts. The joy of the resurrection awaits us.
Jan Bentham is a Retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.