I am always excited to enter the season of Lent.
That might not be a super popular take, but I long for the seasons in the liturgical calendar that interrupt my busyness, my frenzy and invite me to pause and take stock of how I’m doing spiritually.
I don’t know whether it’s nature or nurture, but it is my way to fill my time with activities and responsibilities, to fixate on what I am DOING (and whether I am doing enough - spoiler alert, I never am) rather than how I am FEELING.
Last year when Ash Wednesday arrived, I had a ROBUST list of devotions to practice, sacrifices to make. I wanted to journal more, spend less time on social media, commit to exercise and embodiment practices, and more. I was eager to begin - to tend to my spiritual health by feverishly checking tasks off a list. For the first few weeks, things went according to plan. I had reminders set on my phone and post-its sprinkled throughout my home. I was doing it! And then in late-February, early-March things began to change. The school where I teach shifted to remote learning, my church stopped having in-person masses, my family canceled parties and thought twice about visiting older relatives.
When my work and social routines got disrupted, my Lenten devotions did as well. Suddenly, all the things I thought I wanted to do didn’t feel like they were bringing me closer to God. They felt like empty gestures that just weren’t connected to the rhythm of my life anymore. My plans, my visions for the season had to change. Did I believe that God would reveal Herself to me in this new state I found myself in?
In the readings this week, God reveals Herself to various people in dramatic and surprising ways. In the reading from Genesis, God appears to Abraham and makes a shocking demand. We don’t get insight into what Abraham thought or felt about God’s instruction to sacrifice Isaac, but we are told that Abraham’s response to God is simple: “Here I am.” In our Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John. His appearance is dazzling. He converses with Moses and Elijah, prophets and leaders of old. In the wake of these remarkable sightings, Peter responds: “It is good that we are here.”
And that is true for us as well. Yes, indeed it is good that we are here - in whatever state we find ourselves in - because God is with us and prepared to reveal Herself to us. God revealed to Abraham that because of his willingness to sacrifice everything in the present, his descendants would be fruitful and abundant in the future. To the three apostles, Jesus revealed His true nature as the Son of God, the fulfillment of all the prophets had foretold. Jesus confirmed that the men were right to follow their hearts when this strange man from Galilee called out to them and told them to abandon their fishing boats. Abraham, Peter, James, and John were able to witness God’s revelatory power when they chose to simply follow where God led - no matter the sacrifice, no matter the mystery. Do we have the faith and trust to say “Here I am. Meet me here. Work on me. Move within me - right here” ?
When I think about the end of my Lenten journey last year, I’m reminded of the first few lines of the Mary Oliver poem “Wild Geese”:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
It turns out I did not have to “be good”. I did not have to have checklists or post-it my way through Lent to experience God’s closeness. I had to listen and respond to my body, my emotions, my intuition. I had to stand up and stretch my body when hours in front of the computer threatened my sanity. I had to call my family when I was thinking about them instead of waiting until the next event. I had to walk in new parks and new neighborhoods and see God’s face in the plants and people that greeted me. Each moment, I had to say “Here I am. Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to hear?”
I didn’t receive literal messages from literal angels or have visions of prophets, but I did experience many moments of consolation during a season of widespread uncertainty and fear. Even though I desperately wish the circumstances were different, I am grateful that God found and continues to find ways to break through the noise of life and surprise me.
You don’t need to be good. You just need to try your best to be receptive, to recognize that God might be trying to reach out to you right where you are. Settle in. Say to God, “Here I am.” Sit and BE with God and God will let you glimpse Her power.
Vickey McBride is the Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Martin de Porres High School (Cristo Rey) in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to working at Saint Martin, she lived and worked in Brownsville, Texas as a teacher in the Alliance for Catholic Education, earning her Master of Education degree from the University of Notre Dame. She contributed to Five Minutes with the Saints: More Spiritual Nourishment for Busy Teachers, a book of meditations published by Ave Maria Press in 2014. She serves as a music minister for her parish, Saint Patrick Parish, and as director of the Saint Martin de Porres Gospel Choir.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
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