There are many wonderful quotes in Nora Gallagher’s book Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith. My favorite, however, comes from the Boston Globe’s review: “Gracefully written and moving … Things Seen and Unseen starts with Nora Gallagher entering the labyrinth of her life … and ultimately it leads to the center of her being.” That is the meaning of Lent: experimenting with spiritual practices that invite you to enter the labyrinth of your life that leads to the center of your being.
In the book, Gallagher talked about attending Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara. The experience she described is one Virginia-Highland Church is trying to create. She said, “I came to this church five years ago as a tourist and ended up as a pilgrim.” What would it take to move us from spiritual tourists to pilgrims? Through the rhythms of the church year, and by experimenting with various Christian practices, this spiritual journey we call life becomes sacred.
I recently saw a Facebook post in which a parent was bragging about the spirituality of their child who expressed gratitude to God that they do not live in a land wracked by war or famine. While I appreciate any expression of thanksgiving, I couldn’t help but wonder if that parent reminded their child that God is just as present with starving children in war-torn lands. We must be careful never to assume an attitude of superiority because our lives are blessed and others are not, as though we are God’s favorites.
It is easy enough to be grateful and faithful when our journey is full of joy, but what about those wilderness times? Lent invites us to embrace, deliberately and consciously, the wildernesses of life, as well as celebrate the times of blessings. Lent also reminds us how Jesus consciously embraced his own wilderness time. When you are alone, or struggling, or hungering, it may feel as though God has abandoned you. Perhaps, though, by also holding those tough times as sacred, we can learn to hold as sacred the tough times of our sisters and brothers who are struggling.
Their lives are just as beloved and sacred as ours, and our lives are just as beloved and sacred when we are in the desert as when we are enjoying the desserts. Sister Joan Chittister said, “Souls die from lack of reflection.” Lent is a good time for 40 days of reflection, 40 days of spiritual evaluation.
Life is a pilgrimage and the destination is not as important as who we become along the way.
Rev. Michael Piazza