Life is best described as a journey. The landscape changes as we go through the stages of age from infant to youth, to adulthood and eventually into old age; sweet innocence giving way to worries as the path of life bring on more responsibilities. Our little garden of Eden gradually becoming a desert.
We are now in the season of Lent. We practise acts of self-denial like abstinence and fasting to place ourselves in a spiritual desert.
As our responsibilities grow, our desires and expectations increase. The environment we live in is increasingly competitive and unforgiving. Competition and the rat race, and the illusion that only the best will survive. Youthful vigour gives way to worries. These days, youth may not even have a chance to blossom as students are stressed chasing for A-grades. This is the reality of today: stress and worry have made life at times akin to travelling through a desert.
Lent reminds us that “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. This is not about dropping out of life to live as a spiritual hermit. We still need to embrace responsibilities and continue to live. “Bread alone” acknowledges the presence of worldly desires but we need to navigate them with “every word that comes from the mouth of God”. It tells us of the presence of the love of God that help us cross the desert of life.
Often we heat up under stress and we go into a downward spiral of worry and fear. We fuel our desires for more bread expectant that it will lead us into an oasis of happiness. But in truth, happiness without embracing the love of God is like a mirage in the desert.
Often desires take us up the mountain of our imagination and we hallucinate about worldly riches that will solve our problems and entitle us to this happiness. Lent protects us from this hallucination when we place the love of God in the centre of our life; the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the centre of our heart.
Lent begins not when we avoid the skewer of meat or pass up on the glass of alcohol but when we dwell into the emptiness that results from self-denial. Too often Lenten practices have in themselves become rituals and we compete within ourselves to abide but to what end?
Fasting is the denial of the ‘food’ that fuels our worldly desires and expectations that form mirages. When we pause to dwell into our abstinence, we reduce the glare of the illusions of this world.
Lent is this opportunity to empty ourselves and embrace the presence of the love of God. This love is the compass that help us navigate the desert of our worldly life. At the other end of this desert crossing is our ultimate destination. It is the oasis of rich, eternal life. Lent help us cross the desert to reach it. And this isn’t a mirage.
First Sunday of Lent