Lent is about to start, and I'm thinking about what I'll be getting this year.
Yes, I know I sound more like a child on Christmas Eve than an adult preparing for a season of repentance and conversion. And while conventional wisdom tells me I should be choosing what I'll give up, I'm not. This Lent, here is what I'm getting and how I hope it'll help me encounter God.
This Lent, I'm getting quiet
The Lenten call I'm feeling most deeply this year is the invitation to enter the quiet. While the gifts I receive from the quiet are manifold, two in particular are on my heart this year: rest and listening.
In a world full of needs to be met, rest can seem superfluous, lazy or even selfish. However, when we let ourselves get quiet — deep soul-quiet — we're invited into a holy rest. This kind of rest is, paradoxically, an antidote to the selfishness and laziness that threaten to numb our hearts to the cries of the other. After all, it is Jesus himself who offers us this rest, just as he invited his disciples: "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while" (Mark 6:32). In this rest, I'm invited to surrender my need to be successful, useful, and busy.
I remember reading once that busyness is really a form of existential laziness. When I'm honest with myself, I recognize that this is true. Sometimes being busy allows me to feel important and engaged, while ignoring the small inner voice of the Spirit. Busyness tempts me to react rather than respond. It allows me to do something, but not necessarily to do the right thing, or courageous thing, or the well-discerned thing. It's only when I drop the defense of busyness (even the kind of busyness that purports to be about helping others) that I can truly rest in God and begin to listen. "Our hearts are restless," writes St. Augustine, "until they rest in God."
I have no illusions that I will be any less occupied this Lent. I won't give up my commitments and move into the desert, but I will try to take small steps to shift my attitude, to move from self-centered busyness to other-centered purposefulness. Getting quiet is the first of those steps.
This Lent, I'm getting outside
Of course, getting quiet won't do me any good if I am living in a cocoon. In his 2017 Lenten message, Pope Francis urges us to "favor the culture of encounter in our one human family." If my Lent is going to be about more than a few cozy me-and-God moments, if it's going to invite me further into this culture of encounter, then I have to get outside: outside my own head, outside my biases, outside my comfort zone.
This requires me to move. I'm part of a community that names itinerancy as a part of our charism; St. Dominic was an itinerant preacher who traveled wherever he was called in order to bring the Good News. In our times and in my own life, I believe the call of itinerancy is more nuanced. We are called not just to move, but to be moved — to let ourselves encounter God in others and in unexpected places, and to let it change us.
As Sirach 1:9-10 reminds us, God has "poured forth [wisdom] upon all his works / upon every living thing." If I am going to encounter God's wisdom in other living beings, I first have to put myself in a position to encounter them. For me, this includes: truly seeking to know my neighbors, spending time in the natural world, and getting off Facebook and into real conversations.
This Lent, I'm getting lost
If I'm really getting outside my comfort zone, I'm bound to get a little disoriented. It's only when I push the boundaries of familiarity that I can begin to let go of my prejudices, biases and maybe even some of my beliefs. It can make me feel lost for a little while, and I think that's okay … perhaps it's even good.
Now, I'm no stranger to being lost. I have a notoriously poor sense of direction, and as a proud owner of a flip phone, I didn't have access to navigation technology until I got a GPS this year. Getting lost is simply a routine part of my existence, and while it would be a stretch to say that I enjoy the experience (especially when I'm running late), I must admit that it has taught me a few things.
Getting lost makes me vulnerable, because unless I want to continue aimlessly exploring my surroundings, at some point I have to stop and ask a stranger for directions. I must admit that I don't know the way, and I have to trust that the other person has something to offer me. The gift of getting lost is to release my grip on self-reliant certainty and leave some room for faith.
Opening myself to the wisdom of the other — especially the other with whom I vehemently disagree — doesn't mean I become ungrounded or lose all my convictions. My "no" can still mean "no," but my response is more likely to be rooted in authenticity rather than fear.
Perhaps by focusing on this kind of "getting" I'll learn how to give more selflessly. I pray that through these 40 days, I'll let God lead me deeper into encounter and closer to the joy of Easter.
[Christin Tomy, OP, is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. While living and working in Central and South America, she discovered a passion for ecological work, and she currently ministers as Care for Creation Coordinator at Sinsinawa Mound.]