This is the season of Lent where the Spirit does some of the deepest work in us to renew and rejoin and re-member us back together again.
Just as the Spirit drew the Son out into the wilderness to be waited upon by the angels to discern more resolutely the will of the Father on earth as in heaven; so likewise, Lent is a time for the Spirit to use our personal and collective silence and separation in prayer, to reflect, and be renewed by the wisdom of the desert that comes from hearing the Spirit’s deepest sighs in the world.
Now that we are well into the deep of dwelling in the wilderness in solidarity with our Lord, I have been wrestling in prayer and reflection with the paradoxical mystery of God’s love, that holds all things of creation together while at the same time, granting the very space of God’s love for the very creation of God’s making to pull away from the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. And now in this global pandemic, oh how the whole creation is groaning! The sighs of the Spirit have been almost too difficult to hear at the rapid spread of death and suffering throughout the world.
And yet, just when the full weight of glory weighs heavy on my heart, and I can’t seem to carry the burdens of the world anymore, the Spirit that waited upon our Lord in the desert, comes to me and says: “God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made the things that bring him near, made the mind that makes him go. A part of what man knows, apart from what man knows, God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made. (Christian Wiman, “Every Riven Thing”)
I have been asking what is really needed from all of us, especially from the Church, if we are to be faithful healers, “repairers of the breach” throughout the world in the face of COVID-19. During this season of Lent, the faithful wisdom of Thomas Merton has been my guide: “I have only one desire, and that is the desire for solitude—to disappear into God, to be submerged in His peace, to be lost in the secret of His Face.” Or, “the secret of my full identity is hidden in Him. He alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at last I fully begin to be. But unless I desire this identity and work to find it with Him and in Him, the work will never be done.”
Last week in the New York Times I stumbled onto another powerful paradox of soap that seems to resonate with the wisdom of the Desert during Lent. Ferris Jaber wrote: “At the molecular level, soap breaks things apart. At the level of society, it helps hold everything together.” (NYT, March 13, 2020). There is much wisdom and insight in the science of soap that is not out of step with the paradox of Love—Triune love. We must listen to the Spirit and pull apart for a season if we are to participate in God’s reconciling mission to unite, renew, rejoin, re-member all things of creation. I am afraid that if we don’t heed to the wisdom of the ancient protocols from the WHO and the CDC, we will suffer the consequences of a virus that will spread exponentially with unimaginable consequences. Once again, I hear the deep sighs of the Spirit groaning because the whole creation is groaning for the redemption that promises to make all things new. If soap is necessary to break apart and disinfect that which is tearing us apart, so that as a society we can hold together, then why can’t we see the same paradox at work in this Lenten season that calls us to wander alone in the desert with our Lord so that we will know why Friday is Good . . . and that after we have sat in the silent abyss of the tomb we will know why Holy Saturday is indeed Holy? Otherwise, the joy of Easter Sunday may just pass us by this season. . .
May our prayer during this Lenten season be for the life of the whole world, an echo of Merton’s one desire: “to be submerged in God’s peace and lost in the secret face of God.” “And when we rise in love renewed, our souls will resemble Thee, an Image of the Triune God through all eternity.”—Charles Wesley
Dr. Steve McCormick
Professor of Historical Theology and William M. Greathouse Chair for Wesleyan-Holiness Theology