Lent: The Fulfilment of Time

… the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Mark 1:12-15 (The Life with God Bible, NRSV)

Twenty Years? O Still, Small Voice of Calm

Abba Anthony, the first monk (I think?), certainly the first of the Desert Fathers, went into the desert as a young man. There he stayed for 20 years, wrestling with temptations of one sort or another. As regular readers will know, I asked God to use this period of Lent to show me my weaknesses (what in the name of sanity did I do that for? It was quite pleasant having one’s head buried in the sand). Lent is around six weeks in length. Not even 1% of Abba Anthony’s time. I ask myself, as I begin to recognise the significance of sacrifice, what is the level of my sacrifice? Do I need to sacrifice, or do I just need to say ‘yes’ or ‘God, help me’? I do not know the answers to these questions.

After my prayer asking God to show me my weaknesses, He has been gentle in His revelations. But today, good Lord! Tormented today by temptation. Days like today… it’s no wonder it took Anthony two decades. But God is always good. This I know.

 

‘Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.’

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This Lent Thing…

I have not really considered the nature of temptation before. Only the second day of Lent and already temptation is like an insect bite. You can scratch it almost without realising, which is rather mortifying. I’m not fasting, as it makes my illness worse, but I’ve ‘given up’ something which I am beginning to recognise stings more by its absence than I’d anticipated (or at least, I thought it would sting but that I would nobly put up with it, you know, all holy and what-not). I could put my nose in the air and polish my halo as I loftily inform all of Blogland of the nature of my ‘fast’, but firstly, the bible tells us quite clearly not to do that (Matthew 6:16) and secondly, well, to be honest it’s slightly embarrassing. I am realising quite how much of a temptation it has been, and for some time (not that it’s a sin in and of itself, but self-indulgence is). How easily sin hides in the clothing of ‘good’. We humans play games and lie to ourselves and it’s so easy.

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
    a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
    and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
    I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
    not as they pretend to be.”

Jeremiah 17:9-10 (The Message)

 

Very timely. God is showing me what I need to be shown about myself, which is because it’s the right place and the right time to learn. I have prayed that God show me my weaknesses (after all, that’s got to be a large part of Lent, surely?). If we as Christ-followers are to be ‘the light of the world’ we have to be able to shine that light onto the things we’d rather hide.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner…

But how do I know that my prayer will be heard? How do I really know? I mean, I’m practically useless at this small thing – very nearly yielding to temptation when it’s only Day Two and without even realising it until the last second! How can this silly, headstrong, stubborn, passionate, unwieldy, slightly barmy mix called Sandy know that the King of Heaven listens to what she has to say? It’s absurd! If I was Him I’d be far too busy getting on with more important stuff.

Julian of Norwich puts it like this:

Julian with her cat. She was allowed a cat to catch rodents.

Julian with her cat. As an anchoress she would have lived alone in her tiny cell attached to St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, but she would have been allowed a cat to catch rodents. I like the way she’s stroking the cat.

‘Often, our trust is not full trust. We are not sure that God hears us, because we think we are unworthy and because we feel so insignificant (this is also because we often feel as bleak after praying as we did beforehand). We see how silly and foolish we are and this causes our weakness. I have felt this way myself.

As I was thinking this, God said to me, “I am the source of all your requests [your heartfelt prayers]: first it is my will that you have it; then I make it your will also, then I make you ask for it and you ask for it. How then can you not have what you cry out for?”‘

From ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ chapter 41

(paraphrased into modern English by me)

I love this way of praying! Now I know when to pray, what to pray for and I never cease to marvel at the ways God answers. Hallelujah! How can my prayers ever be unanswered if they are God-breathed in the first place?

Hmm. This Lent thing is getting interesting 😉