Each ecclesial year, early days of the Lenten season take us into the desert with Jesus to encounter the darkness of demons that haunt us, and then to the mountaintop to catch a glimpse of a higher, brighter glory beyond this existence. Though a mercurial shift in spiritual altitude and a roller coaster-type experience for disciples, it gives solid grounding for us as we deal with the peaks and valleys of our life, the ups and downs in our relationships, the dryness and elation of prayer, the restlessness and peace which vacillate within our human heart.
Like Jesus, in our deserts we encounter the prince of darkness and lord of lies, the great tempter and deceiver. We get tempted and deceived regularly in our lives. But it is not always an exterior force that is the culprit of our deceptions and temptations. There are dark and hidden parts within us that we might do well to face. Though most of us are not living a lie, we get enticed to be something different from the person God created us to be and, in that, we deceive ourselves and pursue something that is not true and, therefore, not the way to happiness or holiness. As we learn how to face interior demons, we benefit from faith that is also planted deep in our soul and we call upon the Holy Spirit that dwells there, too. In that, we rediscover the right path—or at least a better one.
While the Lenten season invites us to contend with the desert in the company of Christ, it also beckons us to the mountaintop. Unlike in the desert where we think we are alone, up high we are assured that we’re in the company of others: not just friends like Peter, James, and John but by old ghosts of ages past like Moses and Elijah. In our mountaintop experiences, we touch the grace of holy men and women who have gone before us, in this world and the next, like loving parents or grandparents, saints or personal examples of goodness and inspiration. Some readers can relate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been to the mountaintop and saw the glory of God. But usually, our closest human encounters are fleeting glances brought forth randomly by music, poetry, literature, prayer experiences, a cardinal, owl, deer, or beautiful day. Surprised by joy, these experiences can give us a glimpse into a greater world and help us meet the greater part of ourselves, the part that reveals God’s glory in virtues of peace, acceptance, understanding, kindness, love, and other characteristics which remind us that we are part of something far more than we grasp.
Yes, these early days of Lent give good grounding for things to follow in scripture during the liturgical season, like when Jesus encounters an unnamed woman at the well or an unnamed man born blind. The well is a symbol of depth, and it calls us to look deep, to go below the surface of our lives for greater wisdom. Jesus’ encounter with the man reminds us that those without physical sight “see” much more than most of us. They also call us to see better by looking back in hindsight, ahead in foresight, deep with insight. Lent is a good time for spiritual travel, from desert to mountaintop, from physical sight to spiritual insight, from the surface to what is below it… Let us pray for one another in these days and move toward more enlightened times as we continue the journey in faith.