Lent is a season that brings us back to the work of prayer. Getting to know God is not only the cure for what ails us; it centers the meaning of our lives. God is at the core of our being, willy-nilly. To get to know God, we have to descend into our own depths to chart the lay of the land, to identify and name our Darwinian habits that bend us out of shape. What we find will furnish ample material, not only for confession, but for conversation. Lent is a time for candor, when we recognize for ourselves and share with God our deepest fears and twisted suspicions, our timid hopes and wildest dreams.
Lent is also a time for beginning to break bad habits. Some of these are within our power. With discipline, we can back ourselves out of them and leave them behind. More deeply rooted are our addictions to “painkillers” -- to sweets, junk food and alcohol; to conspicuous consumption, workaholic achievement, competitive advantage and privileged access -- that distract us from facing wounds that we fear are incurable and that keep us from exposing them to the Great Physician and his healing love. Here we may need to confess our powerlessness to break the bondage and humble ourselves to be coached by others into finding in God the help we need.
Lent is also a time to subvert the old by practicing the new, to stop thinking about volunteering as an ESL tutor, or a jail visitor, or a soup kitchen worker or a Habitat builder, and actually do it. Actions speak louder than words, and we can learn by doing how to love those whom Jesus loves.
Medieval theologians thought the human soul of Christ was so centered on Godhead that he enjoyed the beatific vision through his mortal life. For us, the restructuring of personality is a process. Few people come to a point of being everywhere-and-always conscious of the personal presence and goodness that surrounds them. But the courage to “get real” with God about our predicament, our attempts to be present in prayer and to work with God to dismantle our disabling defenses, does slowly shift us into greater transparency.
Our will to collaborate with God will open various layers of the self to deeper intimacy that will more and more convince us that we are safe and that we are loved. This will increasingly free us to see and love the world as God wants us to see and love it. Eventually, repeated year after year, not just seasonally but all year long, Lenten exercises will remold us -- like St. Paul -- into people who can speak and act in God’s name.