O Lord, this holy season of Lent is passing quickly. I entered into it with fear, but also with great expectations. I hoped for a great breakthrough, a powerful conversion, a real change of heart; I wanted Easter to be a day so full of light that not even a trace of darkness would be left in my soul. But I know that you do not come to your people with thunder and lightning. Even St. Paul and St. Francis journeyed through much darkness before they could see your light. Let me be thankful for your gentle way. I know you are at work. I know you will not leave me alone. I know you are quickening me for Easter—but in a way fitting to my own history and my own temperament.
I pray that these last three weeks, in which you invite me to enter more fully into the mystery of your passion, will bring me a greater desire to follow you on the way that you create for me and to accept the cross that you give to me. Let me die to the desire to choose my own way and select my own desire. You do not want to make me a hero but a servant who loves you.
Be with me tomorrow and in the days to come, and let me experience your gentle presence. Amen.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee, Doubleday
I don’t know that I had as beautiful a purpose as Nouwen had in mind for this Lent, but certainly I had a purpose. I felt that this Lent would be somehow crucial, yet I misunderstood, partly at least, that word “crucial”. Like most people of my time, I had thought of crucial as “important or essential as resolving a crisis” (Merriam-Webster) first, and, even as a Franciscan with some shreds of school Latin left, only secondly as relating to the way of the Cross.
I was wrong. God has chosen this Lent to show me even more clearly my own poverty, my own powerlessness—my own desperate need for hiddenness and silence—by taking me a way that is a million miles from the clarity and decisiveness of that dictionary definition. This is a way of darkness very like, in some ways, Paul’s and Francis’. It most certainly involves dying “to the desire to choose my own way and select my own desire.” It even involves dying to the desire to select my own terms of surrender.
A couple of years ago I wrote a post entitled Of God and Cows, which might be worth clicking over and re-reading. In it, I pointed out that the only way effectively and kindly to care for cows was to earn their trust. The only way through times like this is to trust God, to trust blindly, in fact—something which goes against everything a Western man (or woman, but perhaps especially man) has been brought up to believe, and against which every fibre of my being wants to scream. But it is the only way. As CS Lewis once wrote:
If human life is in fact ordered by a beneficent being whose knowledge of our real needs and of the way in which they can be satisfied infinitely exceeds our own, we must expect a priori that His operations will often appear to us far from being beneficent and far from wise...
You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence... the assent, of necessity, moves us from the logic of speculative thought into what might perhaps be called the logic of personal relations.
CS Lewis, The World's Last Night and Other Essays, Mariner Books