Sometimes, I think I try too hard. I’m so gripped by what I think I’m supposed to be doing, that I completely ignore the neon lights flashing in front of me telling me that I must just stop, and maybe listen?
Take Lent. Last week I felt it was scandalous that I didn’t have some elaborate programme worked out with satisfying little ticky-boxes which would tell me and everyone else that I was doing Lent properly. I wanted to show up to Lent but I didn’t know what to do. And then, following helpful advice, I decided to listen to the music I love the best and which makes my soul want to reach out and hold on tight. The music which always steps up when nothing else can, and soothes and calms, and sets me upright on my own two feet again.
And as I’ve walked through the week, listening to my playlist, as I’ve pounded the pavements, and read stuff about Lent and about Jesus and how much he loves us all – even those who don’t clean up after their dogs or who post nasty comments on Twitter– I’ve realised that what I want most of all is to feel closer. Closer to God, closer to others, closer to myself.
And it also occurred to me that the past year has been one long Lent. If you wanted a year schlepping through the wilderness, being deprived of human companionship, alone, adrift, craving warmth and light and life, then this year has come up trumps. We’ve all been in the wilderness. We’ve all felt distanced and apart – mainly because we are.
Now I’m not saying that this is a get-out-of-jail-free card for not observing Lent in a direct way. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. What I I am saying is, let’s be gentle with ourselves. We’ve all lost so much and missed so much and been so desperate to hold our precious ones, it’s driven us barmy. Well, it has me. Zoom is a lot better than nothing, as we say to each other a hundred times a week, but it’s not the same. IT’S NOT THE SAME! I want to hold my little grandkids and feel their snotty snuffly noses rub against my shoulder and nuzzle my face into their soft shampooed hair – even though one of them is fighting a losing battle with nits.
Oh, we’ve learnt so much about isolation and distance. We’re all flipping pilgrims on the road. We’ve all hiked through Covid for so long now and we are all very weary and desperate for the end – which thank God is on the horizon. Not much further to walk. And the God I’m getting to know would want us to major big time right now on those things which help us to feel connected. Not an extra layer of self-flagellation and deprivation and choosing a nice sackcloth and ashes outfit in a size 12 from eBay.
Now if anyone is wary of taking short cuts – it’s me. I am hardwired to be alert to any whiff of suggestion that I’m not doing things properly. That the gates of Heaven will be firmly slammed in my face if I don’t measure up. That all is lost if I don’t make sure my name is written in inedible ink in the Book of Life and underlined three times.
This is where the support of my brothers and sisters in the Third Order is so helpful. I am meeting a bunch of people who don’t keep score. Who don’t believe in a God who requires payback and will reject all those he made and supposedly loves if they don’t play ball.
And I’m mindful of the fact that the start of this pandemic coincided with my becoming a postulant in the Third Order. And as we begin to smell freedom and release, I am thinking about being noviced sometime this summer. And feeling excited and humbled and challenged by that but also convinced that it’s absolutely the right step for me to take.
There has been water in this desert of pandemic. There have been locusts and wild honey to eat (although I’m really looking forward to being able to pick from a menu). I have had a place to lay my head when I've needed to sleep. There have been companions on the way who know this desert better than I do and have helped me with my map co-ordinates and shown me the best places to shelter and be safe from prowling wild animals. I have felt held and protected and able to venture just a little further and be just a little braver. And it is fitting that this long Lent is concluding with taking the hand of Jesus though his journey to resurrection.
For someone who has spent her life being terrified of God that is progress indeed.