The Blessings of Lent IV: True Wilderness

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Lent 4photo by the author, Bonnie BellH.A. Williams in an early sermon called True Wilderness comments that “Lent is supposed to be the time when we think of Jesus in the wilderness”. I read this sermon each year and try to use this time for stock taking, looking at where I have been this past year and where I am going: Easter Sunday is in one sense the beginning of the new year.

My life is now at one of the significant crossroads, the one called retirement and mature age; although most of life is over, I can live what time remains with awareness and deep meaning.

I have a small wooden cross inlaid with green stone that I use to mark holy space in my small apartment. In it I see my life reflected, particularly during Lent as I examine my life. These forty days are a time for letting go of last year’s disappointments, celebrating it’s satisfactions, and planning for moving forward in new ways. I feel that as we approach our later years (with poorer health and less money) it is time to rejoice in all that is good and beautiful, and to relinquish all that is not. So Lent for me is this time of “stock-taking” which is essentially a time of aloneness, or sitting in the wilderness of my being, examining all that I have been and all that I might strive to be.

I set my cross before me each morning. The base is my body which must be cared for and, as age creeps on, requires more daily maintenance. I am blessed that it still functions well. The arms are my head and heart. I know that the aging brain takes longer to learn and the memory is slower but I look forward to new experiences and taking up new things, in part because it no longer matters that I achieve high marks, set targets, or await praise and commendation. I can now focus on the joys of learning, meeting new people, exploring the world around me. So in Lent I look for the opportunities that this wonderful city provides to grow and expand my mind.

My heart belongs to love and fellowship. So in Lent I examine my relations, being thankful to be blessed with an abundance of wonderful friends and a close-knit family. It’s a time to rejoice in past friendships but also to look at relationships which which I must slip away or just sever outright (not always easy to do). As we age, we gain commitments, change priorities, and often just have less time. I am thankful for the joys that each friend and acquaintance has given me, but sometimes I need to recognize that it is time to move on, or time to allow them to slip away from me. I am also blessed with opportunities to interact with young people and be reminded that the wisdom of mature age is to learn to listen. I no longer need to impress anyone, to gain new networks, or even new friends. I can offer a listening ear, or the fruits of my own journey, wherever they are needed.

The top of my cross is my soul and the centre of the cross, to which all the arms point, is Jesus. Lent is the time to put the body, mind, and heart in order, to review what I’ve done with them in the past year, and to plan for their betterment in the year to come.

Finally I must learn how to nourish the soul. In the conclusion to his sermon, H.A. Williams says “To love is to give. To give is to be. To be is to find yourself in communion with all about you. And this communion is glory. Christ’s glory and yours. … Lent we discover, is Easter in disguise.”

So as I find myself no longer employed, watching my budget, and dealing with the aches and pains of an aging body, sitting in this wilderness I count myself blessed that I am here, loved and loving, and after a Lent of stock-taking I will be ready to rejoice in another Easter and another new beginning.

Bonnie Bell lives in Toronto and is an associate of Holy Cross Priory.

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