Hearing the story of Jesus' transfiguration in church yesterday gave me an insight into Lent, what it is
and is not about. Here's the piece that spoke to me:
While [Peter was offering to build shelter for Moses, Elijah and Jesus], a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a vice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
Too many of us still think of Lent as a time to sharpen our piety. Do something else or take away something that is "sacrificial" (I'm not sure if ice cream really counts) either to remind you of Jesus' sacrifice (again, I'm not sure even chocolate will do it) or the enhance your life of prayer or service to others.
The transfiguration story tells me that Lent is about the cloud overshadowing us to the extent that we are at least a bit afraid, and then struggling with the command to listen. If want to improve your prayer life during Lent its best not to be about more words, but fewer, even none. It's about listening.
And not just listening, but listening in the fog. Fog is powerfully disorienting. It can be scary to drive in the fog. It is something we avoid whenever we can.
Ironically (at least for me), the song we sung before the gospel reading yesterday was this:
I want to walk as a child of the light; I want to follow Jesus...
In him there is no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike...
I will admit this is not my favorite song. I will also acknowledge that it is a favorite of many. For me it is far too facile. I do, indeed, want to walk as a child of the light, and I do believe that Jesus in glory is the essence of light, but it is also my experience that following and seeing and listening to Jesus mean being overshadowed, walking in the fog, walking through the fear.
In its origin Lent was the final time of preparation for those to be baptized at Easter. I love baptism; I cherish my own, unremembered, baptism. One might say (and be correct) that baptism brings clarity to our lives: an extraordinary promise of love everlasting ("the bond that God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble"). But having been gifted with this clarity, as on the mount of transfiguration, we have to go back out into the world, and the fog goes with us. Where I was yesterday we did not read the optional continuation of the story, where Jesus returns from the mountain to find the disciples he left behind lost in a situation with which they could not cope. They left the fog on the mountain only to walk into the fog in the valley.
This fog is our struggle to walk in the way. We shouldn't be surprised by it. Even our baptismal liturgy recognizes this reality by having us renounce all evil and sin one minute and then promising that whenever we sin we will "repent and return to the Lord." The juxtaposition of those seemingly opposite things is an example of the fog through which we must walk, but more importantly in which we must listen.
So my advice this Lent? Just this: listen.