The snow is melting at last and the temperature is moderating. Birds are singing and the days are once again longer than the nights. It’s the late winter/early spring, that time of year when we step back and examine how we are practicing our faith. It is a time of assessing our failings and sins: how have we strayed from God as the center of our lives? How have we forgotten the needs of family members, friends and strangers? How can we come back home to God?
The season of Lent
In her wisdom, the Church gave us Lent as the season for such assessment in preparation for the celebration of the most important day in a Christian’s year: Easter. In my childhood I recall purple cloth (signifying penance or, being sorry for your sins) all over the church, covering the statues. It was a time to give up chocolate or some other treat as a symbol of penance. It was not necessarily a time I looked forward to.
Lent is so much more
As an adult, Lent can offer so many wonderful opportunities if we can get beyond our preconceived childish notions and misunderstandings. The words "penance" and "sacrifice" and even the color purple can denote negative thoughts and feelings when in fact, they offer chances for healing and purification. The word "repent," often misunderstood, brings reconciliation and wholeness.
The true meaning
I like to think of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), despairing and destitute, falling into the loving arms of his father. Coming back home prompted merrymaking on the part of his father rather than judgment. This is such a beautiful illustration of turning around and coming home, the true meaning of repentance. It is a moment of sorrow that leads to celebration.
Searching your soul
The Prodigal had to do a lot of soul searching to humble himself and come back home to his father. After all, in essence, he told his father to "drop dead" by taking his inheritance money early. We can learn from his example.
Tools for soul-searching
Keeping a journal, whether you are a writer or not, is a wonderful way to search your soul. I took up the practice again a couple of years ago and find it especially helpful for sorting out confusing times in my life. A block of quiet time and a notebook can help you connect the past with the present in powerful ways. It can even be life-changing.
Tough times make for good soul-searching
Since writing things down was not done in the Prodigal Son's time, he had sort out his life without that tool. He had the other essential tool however: time. As he was feeding pigs and longing to eat his fill, he had the opportunity to recall his past life (which he realized had been quite good), his past behavior (taking his inheritance and squandering it) and his current situation. He realized in the end it was worth the price of killing his pride to come back home to his father. It would save his life.
We are lucky because we can write things down. Of late I have been exploring in my journal why I feel the way I do about losing my singing voice and music in general (a series of posts for another day) and have made some important discoveries about how I have treated (or mistreated) this special gift that God gave to me. It has shone a glaring spotlight on past sins which I am now bringing before God, asking for forgiveness.
I am using my Lenten journey to focus on how I can too return home to my heavenly Father, make peace with past actions, and learn again to embrace my gift for his people and his glory. Through taking the time to be quiet and write down my thoughts, I have been able to navigate through murky waters and come to understand what I did, how I feel, and how everything can be made right again.
Connections and healing
More than one author I know has told me they see writing as a spiritual experience, even as prayer. I am beginning to see this too. I do know it helps me connect the fragments of my life, bring them together and make sense of them. This is the beginning of wholeness and healing.
How are you taking advantage of Lent this year? What are your special Lenten practices?
Copyright 2014, Susan Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.