The sunlight obscures him in its intense brightness on the horizon, but I can still see his figure walking ahead as I follow at a distance. I have to run a little just to keep him in sight. I am wondering if he wanted some desert alone time and whether I should let him be. He seems to sense my hesitation. He turns to glance back at me, stops right away, turns on his heal and heads toward me more quickly than I would have thought walking would bring him.
“Follow me. I have something I want to teach you this Lent.”
We walk in silence for a while. Eventually he leads me to where he has set a camp fire in front of a small cave. I am surprised he seems to be cooking. I thought we were fasting. He has made me a simple meal of lentils and bread.
He explains to me that he knows that for me, especially at this time of shock, grief, and upsetting change in my life, eating is harder for me than fasting. This is why he asks that, for now, I take up the discipline of eating, of letting him feed me. This brings us to a larger issue that he wants to sit and talk over as we eat.
He hands me a clay cup full of water and we sit on the warm ground to eat our meal.
Even though we are quiet after the meal blessing, I sense that he wants me to remember that he understands what I am going through and that he experienced it himself. Briefly I remember it as he remembers it, that he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief of every kind. He wants me to remember so that I will feel deeply understood by him, and I do.
He opens the conversation by saying he has heard my prayers asking what he would like me to do for Lent.
His answer is that he wants me to take care of myself in ways that are hard for me right now.
He wants me to let go of what anyone else is doing, and of what unfolds around me, even and especially the things that hurt me the most.
“Just seek healing for these forty days. Care for yourself as I care for you, let yourself be loved, and pay attention to your prayers. I want you to stop worrying about things that are mine to take care of. I would like you to stop wasting energy doing things I am not asking you to do, and to say yes to doing as I am asking. When you do what I have not asked, you wear yourself down for nothing. When you do as I am asking, I will give you all you need to accomplish everything.”
I have to think about this. Then I start worrying about certain situations in my life. “Trust me. Get out of my way and let me care for you in all those situations that are not really yours to do anything about, but mine.”
I have to think about this, too.
He goes over with me his idea of my to-do list.
Me eating on a regular basis seems to interest him a lot. Me paying my bills on time and taking care of other things that are mine to take care of are high on the list. Me standing up for myself in certain matters that he wants me to seems important to him, too.
He wants mercy in this: that I let other people love me, that I let him love me, that I take care of myself and my life with love for his sake.
Well, this is different than what I was thinking. But I can see he’s serious. He has given me a lot to think about. In fact, I feel a bit upside down right now.
The lunch he made is good and we eat in appreciative silence next to the fire in the shade of a rocky hill. I glance into the cave at his simple belongings- a bag of some kind, a sleeping mat.
He catches my eye, and I look at him across from me, chewing casually on his piece of bread. Then I catch my breath because suddenly his eyes go straight to my heart, his gaze like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon, laying my broken inner world open before me. I can see it in metaphor; a bombed-out building I have been trying to live in as if it were not rubble. I see the chaos from the outer world that I have let in like a flood of bad water over what little I had left to live on.
I see that I did not welcome him when he came to pay his mourning call to me to comfort me.
I had given him his usual seat, I had sat near him, so to speak, but did not allow more than his proximity most days. I did not care for myself, nor did I let him care for me. I did not see him cry for me. I was not looking.
I don’t even know how to fix this problem; not this broken heart, not my inability to open it right now.
He gently helps me understand that even this is not mine to do. I don’t have to do anything. I just have to be willing.
I feel at peace as I look up and see only him, still chewing on his bite of bread, gently brushing off an ant.
“In silence and in hope will be your strength,” crosses my mind.
He says, “Just don’t move without my will.”
He shows me myself moving in tune with him through my days as I set about my house work, my bill paying, my phone calls, my cooking, driving, working, my encounters with others; in all these allowing him to care for me in how I care for myself.
He shows me myself quiet in my prayer, breathing his gentle love, his presence, his mercy, his holy Name, into my broken heart, allowing him to rebuild, to redefine, to transform.
The tenderness I feel from him is almost frightening right now, and I realize it is because of all the pain I have been feeling but trying to carry alone without realizing that was what I was doing. I need to trust him. I need to let him in more to the places that hurt. That is what he wants.
He says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. Those whose spirit is crushed, he will save.”
I understand what he is asking me to do.
I have to do what I am supposed to do in life right now, and it isn’t very much. He will take care of the other things.
He will protect my heart.
He will defend my heart.
He will heal my heart, no matter how impossible it may seem, or how many times it must be renewed or even remade.
He will do what it takes.
He already did all this with his willingness to have his own heart, his own life, broken for my sake. I understand that he stepped radically into my sorrow, inhabiting it himself in his incarnation, his life, suffering and death.
“Let yourself be loved,” wrote Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity.
“You are not your own,” says St. Paul. We are each bought at an infinite price and are of unspeakable value to the Lord of love.
To love ourselves perfectly in God, through God, and for love of God, is the fourth and highest degree of love, that signifies union with him, wrote St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
It seems to me the deepest and most humble of surrenders.
This is my challenge to grow toward for Lent 2016.
I look up at the bright sky, and suddenly he showers me with rose petals of every color. They smell beautiful as they fall around me and over me, sticking to my face and shoulders, piling up in my lap, getting between my toes.
He is laughing. I smile. Jesus is Lord. He can laugh and dump rose petals over my head if he wants to.
I will just have to get used to it.
Something related you might like to try:
Prayer of the Heart (in the Eastern Orthodox tradition)
- Sit quietly and recollect yourself.
- Imagine your heart, visualize it and keep your attention there.
- Lead the mind from the head into the heart, and say mentally, with your breath, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” slowly and reverently. Imagine you are breathing “Lord Jesus Christ.” into your heart. Then on the out breath, think, “have mercy on me.”
- If your mind starts doing its usual job, thinking, gently bring it back to the prayer and continue mentally repeating it, visualizing your heart and keeping your attention there.
- Be patient and peaceful, spending some quiet time with God in this way.