I am a slow learner. I hear the sacred invitations of Lent and I still move toward the darkness. My life is busy right now and I wonder if my time with God in the desert is caving in on itself. Is it true that I need to understand darkness to be a child of the Light? Are all my examinations of the truth really helping me get ready for the sunrise? Or, am I making things harder for myself?
Together we’re in a Lenten desert where things aren’t too comfortable. God seems to have turned up the heat and hallowed out cool caves of confusion for us to take refuge. Our explorations of the caves of truth cause us to wonder. Is there a reason why we want to examine the rock formations within the dark? Can it also be our nature to stand and face the horizon, waiting to watch the glory of the sunrise? As light emerges can we listen to the songs of creation getting ready for a New Day?
I ponder these scenes in my heart when I remember to pause during my busy days. God is certainly using the local, natural beauty to ground me as I run around. I have to pay attention while I try to serve, teach, help and love. Every day is full of the Truth that can bring me closer to God. Truth can be rocky, heavy and hard.
This week daylight savings time has warped my routine some. My alarm clock becomes part of my dreams and I tune it out but the singing birds stir me out of slumber. Then, in a daze, I watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan and read psalms. I bow, blow out candles and say the Eucharistic prayer that my sisters say in our adoration chapel every hour with me while I am away on mission: “Sacrament most holy, Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine. Eucharistic heart of Jesus, furnace of Divine love, grant peace to the world.”
I gather my stuff and rush to work. On the way I encounter the needs of the world, hoping to bring the peace I pray for. Every child needs positive attention, every person needs to know that she is loved. I can’t keep up with the demands of being a teacher, no matter how much sleep I sacrifice or prayers I pray. It seems that I have to remain real. It’s more true to admit that I am doing my best but I would like to do better. A stone of truth in the cave is named: I must be humble.
I read the news and check my email. Awareness of injustices layer upon more demands. The freshness of the signs of spring stir worries and unrest. I am worried about the safety of the city, the garbage wrapping around fences and coating the land. I get crabby and annoyed that other people are messing up the world, but I fail to look in the mirror. Yet I am getting used to violent and cruel language. Along with other sufferings and wrong-doings, I tune things out instead of caring. Another rocky truth in the cave is named: I could be more loving and passionate about injustice.
When evening arrives I am exhausted but still spinning in restlessness. I realize I survived another day of mean misunderstandings and heavy work, but my guilt is stronger than gratitude. I feel like I need to keep working as long as I can or I won’t be ready for tomorrow. God stirs in my heart, asking me to sabbath. Come, rest in me. I shrug off God’s desert invitations and turn instead to shame and sorrow; I think I need to work harder. A boulder of truth in the cave is named: I need to trust in God.
I am glad that Lent is longer than a month because I seem to be a slow learner. I am getting it though, little by little, and with each new awareness my relationship with God is being restored and renewed. Eventually I’ll be able to leave the cool cave and re-encounter the heat of the furnace of Divine Love. Eventually all this Lenten work will ready me for the best sunrise ever: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the true Light of the world.
And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. -John 3:19-20
Several years ago I was very blessed to have the opportunity to do some traveling in South Africa. I traveled in a way that was probably not atypical for other world travelers in their early 20s. I met people who were interested in exploring the same places and seeing the same sites and then we would join together and share the expenses.
One day, for example, another American student and I rented a car with two other young women from the UK. We drove from Cape Town to the Cape Point National Park and encountered some of the most strikingly beautiful scenery that I have ever seen in my life.
One of my most vivid memories from the day was a moment I had with one of these strangers from the UK. We were walking down the path and sharing a bit about who we were. She told me that she was a Christian, and I surprised myself by saying “I thought so! I could tell!” And she said “I can tell you are one too!” Together we marveled at how we could tell. We realized we could only guess. Perhaps it was the presence of the Holy Spirit, perhaps it was our attitudes, perhaps we were who we hoped to be and we were greeting others with the warmth and unconditional love of Christ, perhaps we were radically counter-cultural like the Gospel compelled us to be.
What we also realized is that one of the other women who was traveling with us also proclaimed to be a Christian even though she wasn’t really much different from anybody else. Her obsessions and attitudes didn’t demonstrate that she was in love with the Gospel and Jesus. She didn’t seem to be living a counter-cultural life in any sort of way; she just seemed like a regular person. And, as far as recognizing another Christian by some sort of feeling, we weren’t really sure if she would get what we were talking about. Certainly it wasn’t our job to judge her faith, but we were probably making that mistake.
Faith, after all, is a struggle for most people in our incredibly complex and secular world.
Not too long ago, as you probably know, I was blessed to have another international travel experience. At the World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, I was crammed into crowds of literally a million young Christians from around the world. These youth were much more attached to the specific Christian classification of Catholicism. No matter the flavor of faith, though, for Christians we’re all rooted in the Love of Jesus and good news of the Gospel. And, what happens in our hearts and prayer should compel us to act, look and live differently from what is common.
At the end of the World Youth Day experience, two million people gathered in a old airfield for an evening of prayer. We hiked there in the boiling heat on Saturday, set up our camps, and tried to stay hydrated and cool (which seemed practically impossible, considering how hot it was).
When I went in search of water that afternoon, I had an interesting observation. A million teens and young adults, no matter how they kneel in prayer or study the Catechism, are still a million teens and young adults. The same temptations hover over good intentions as they would in any other huge crowd of young people. Then, when people are thirsty and there are language barriers and other frustrations, a spirit of compassion, kindness and helpfulness may not be natural. In fact, when things are really tough, people naturally look out for themselves, it seems. In one situation, for example, I had to remind some teenagers to allow an elderly man to get a drink of water.
I realized I had to set aside my idealism for a bit and just pray that everyone would fall in love with Jesus and the Gospel and be the people God made them to be. Is that what it takes for Christians to really be different? Is that what it takes for kindness and concern for others to be our directive?
Despite heat-induced mistakes, the young people still blew me away. Upon my return to the United States I’ve been asked what my favorite part of the trip was. After we survived heat, crushing crowds, and a fierce storm together we shared a moment of extreme reverence. Imagine two-million people kneeling on the ground in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and the power, energy, and awe vibrating into the earth. Imagine the peace that moved around the world because of that prayer. Imagine the blessing! That was my favorite moment of the trip.
During that profound moment I learned a great lesson. In addition to kindness and our counter-culturally living, praying makes us different, too.