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The Israelites built a dwelling place for God in the desert. Megan Swaim shares how their experience is breathing new life into her domestic church this Lent.

This is one of my favorite pictures from 2020. It was taken on Easter morning, my children marveling at our “stained glass window.” It followed one of the strangest (and longest) seasons of Lent. But there was also an outpouring of ideas and support for families celebrating Lent and Easter in their domestic churches. My own family turned frequently to praying the Stations of the Cross together; we read Scripture, washed each other’s feet, made a Paschal Candle, and on the night of Easter Vigil, we did our best to transform our home to reflect the joy of Christ’s Resurrection.

3 little girls silhouetted in front of Easter decorated stained glass window 

Maybe your social media feed was also filled with pictures of families doing their best to make their homes a domestic church. Perhaps your family dug deeper together with Scripture or the Rosary, or made sacred art for your home, or stood outside to sing hymns, or brought cheer and hope to your neighbors. As difficult as that time was, there was something inspiring about how people helped each other make something beautiful. 

At the time I thought we’d really discovered something, learned an important lesson that we’d carry with us always. But, then somewhere along the line, I got tired. And now we’re back in Lent again and things are still different. I’m a little weary. Are you? All the shifting and bending and adapting, the creativity and imagination … it feels like too much. And I’ve started approaching Lent begrudgingly, resenting the work that I know is required of me to live this season well and to help my family do the same. 

But then I remember the Israelites in the desert. I chuckle at how quickly they tired of the desert and grumbled at God ... until I remember that I’m also pretty grumbly these days. They wandered in the desert for forty years! And in that time, God provided for them. Not just with bread and manna, with His presence, but with His Law, and also with His instructions for their worship. In my recent rereading of Exodus I was drawn to the very specific instructions God provided for the construction of the Dwelling Place -- the tent, the altars, the ark, the lanterns, the garments, the rituals. 

At first reading it seemed sort of tedious, maybe even exhausting. But as I let my imagination explore what their human experience might have been, something felt familiar. God was inviting them to holy work, to sacrifice their earthly treasures and talents to make something beautiful -- a spiritual home. No matter where they wandered in that desert, the Dwelling went with them, and God filled it with His Presence.

I am confident that God will dwell with us in this home, even in the desert. #catholicmom

I didn’t think that those pages of detail would be fruitful in my own life, but it’s renewing in me those feelings from last year, the desire to enter more fully into the Lenten season and to focus on building and strengthening my home as a domestic church. I may not have the same level of energy or bright-eyed enthusiasm as last year, but I am confident that it’s good and holy work, that God will dwell with us in this home, even in the desert.

Copyright 2021 Megan Swaim
Image copyright 2020 Megan Swaim. All rights reserved.