Friday, February 27, 2015

Why Lent? Its a crazy thought.

If you follow my Twitter or Instagram accounts, you know I have spent the last few days in the frozen tundra of Sag Harbor on retreat.  I posted the pictures as a way of sharing the solitude of the experience, knowing that not many get the gifted opportunity of going on retreat.  I also wanted to make sure people knew I wasn't on a beach somewhere.  Actually, it was a beach, but you get the point, I hope.

Even though I am not a fan of winter, I find it is the best time for me to go on retreat. There is something about winter that encourages the necessary environment of solitude.  The season of Lent is also an opportune time for me - in that my spiritual psyche is directed toward renewal at this time of year.  I feel supported by the recollective spirit of the liturgical season.  A retreat is a restorative time that I think gives us the opportunity to believe in the possible, for me therefore, looking at frozen bays, several feet of snow and dead branches on trees helps me to have hope for new life.

Lent is therefore a time of retreat for all of us.  A time to believe in the hope that new life is possible.  We anticipate the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord and the renewed life of faith that is possible for each of us.  Our own renewal is important not just on a personal level but when we are renewed we see the world differently and we have an increased desire to bring about the change that we seek, as well as what the Lord wishes for us.

I want to share a brief insight, therefore, that was a part of my retreat reflection. As I began the retreat I was using the 15th Chapter of John's Gospel as a source for contemplation.  It is Jesus' discourse on the vine and the branches. The passage actually continues a bit into the 16th chapter.  It was there that I found these words.
 In fact the hour is coming when everyone who kills you, will think he is offering worship to God.         -John 16:2
Mindful of the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians in Egypt last week and the hundreds of Christians taken hostage in Syria this week, I thought to myself, surely this time has come.  I could not help myself be distracted in anger at those who do such things and the lack of leadership from our nation and the nations of the middle east.  This evil must be squashed. Good is much more powerful then this evil is it not? What a disturbing and disconsolate thought for a retreat.  I set the anger aside, however, and focused on myself throughout the next days.  But strange things happen on retreat, or more appropriately you think strange things.

I've been saying mass each day for me and the sisters who live here, as I prepared the readings today I had a strange thought when I read this passage from the first reading.
Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord GOD. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?     -Ez 18:23
Here comes the strange thought.  What if the Saddam Hussein's, Bin Laden's and the Hitler's of the world had had saw the error of their ways, under went a conversion, admitted they were wrong and asked forgiveness?  Wouldn't that have been more powerful then ending their evil with their deaths? Crazy right? Impossible even.  I told you, crazy thoughts come from retreats.  Surely it is hard for us to see this as possible, but can you understand why the Lord says the rejoicing comes not from the death of the wicked but in their conversion? God cares about souls first and foremost so there is no joy for God in lost souls. But think too of the power that conversion would have had in these examples. These men had power to do great evil, think of the power their conversion would have been.  Through evil, they had great influence, would their power be as great if they were to as they were as passionate in their conversion?  I know -- crazy thoughts.

But here is where I found myself going with this. At the beginning of the retreat I desired the destruction of evil but at the end I was musing on the greater power of conversion.  In our own lives we seek to destroy evil within ourselves. We try to root it out of our relationships and all that we encounter.  Isn't that why we discipline ourselves during Lent?  Actually its not.  We discipline ourselves so that we might be changed, that we might turn away from what is sinful not because we drive it out, but because through our Lenten journey we encounter the merciful love of God who gave his only Son. Christ comes not to destroy us or the evil with in, but to change us through mercy.  Could my greater sense of God's mercy for me influenced these crazy thoughts? I think so.

We all struggle with forgiveness.  How can I forgive the one who hurt me so much? Firstly, we forgive so that the evil which has been done to me no longer dominates me.  More importantly, we forgive so that mercy may prompt conversion.  We go through the retreat of Lent so that we might know mercy and be transformed by that mercy.  Transformed we understand the power of mercy, the power to save a soul rather than loose it. The power to not perpetuate death but dissolve its power.
I hope you can find some solitude during these weeks of Lent, so that you might have a greater awareness of what is possible in you and through you because of the mercy of the Father and the Son.
Why Lent?  Because only in the barren solitude would we have such crazy thoughts.