by Leland D. Nagel
“Let’s get away, just the two of us.”
“Great! Where are we going?”
“We are going to get away from it all. No TV. No computer. It will be just the two of us.”
“I can hardly wait to spend the time together! But where are we going?”
“It’s very remote. No internet. No cell phone.”
“It sounds wonderful! But where are we going?”
“We are going to the desert.”
“Are you crazy?”
This is not a vacation; nor is it a permanent change of location. It is not a command; nor is it a solitary journey. It’s not a honeymoon, although it could end up that way.
This is an opportunity to transform your definition of desert from “a dry, barren vast expanse of emptiness” to “a landscape of life, teeming with fragrant flowers and varied vegetation, a virtual garden of paradise.”
Every year the One who has loved us before we were formed in our mothers’ wombs—the One who has stood with us and never abandoned us, the One who has always wanted what is best for us—extends to us an invitation to spend 40 days with him.
Does he really understand what he is asking?
Discerning His Invitation
Perhaps it may be more important to wonder why we fear to enter this vast emptiness with the One—the One who, after spending 40 days there, came out to announce the Good News that continues to be proclaimed today. After all, the invitation is not coming from a tourist. It is coming from a voyager.
Look carefully. This bidding is not from a mere guide who knows the pitfalls, recognizes the intrigue of mirages, or knows what to do when the wind whips up a storm so strong you could be buried under its fury. Rather, here is an experienced sojourner. This is the One who stands with open arms, ready to embrace his beloved. Why the hesitation? Why make excuses?
There is no hidden agenda in this invitation. There is no promise that I will lose 15 pounds if I follow the prescribed regime of exercise and fasting. There is no guarantee that pain or suffering will be non-existent.
Instead, this is an invitation of love—love without strings, without expectations, without demands. It is an opportunity to be embraced by grace 24/7. Where else do I know that the arms of the Savior await my willingness to accept the invitation and be embraced in the warmth of God’s love?
But should I accept his invitation, I fear I will not be able to continue as I have been. The abundance of love, freely given, will necessitate that I change my foolish ways.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I am ready because the invitation won’t go away. It will appear in the words of songs that I hear; it will jump off the page of something I read; it will enter my conversations. The invitation will persist until I say “yes.”
Accepting His Invitation
It’s easy to recognize grace when things are going my way; it is a lot harder when I don’t believe my prayers are being answered, when I feel abandoned, and when I am sinking in the quicksand of over-involvement. Yet, regardless of my inner state of being, the invitation to a graced encounter in the desert is always there—and for whatever reason, I am more willing to consider the offer and jump at the chance to transform my holy longing during Lent. Well, maybe not jump, but at least entertain the thought.
Deep down, I worry that I may not love him enough to spend 40 days with him. I wonder if, after a few days, he will get on my nerves and I will start snapping at him for not doing enough. After being served, waited on, cared for, and simply loved by him, will I begin to feel obligated?
Then again, perhaps the desire to return to him what he has given to me will grow in me to a point where my desire to love like him will be so overwhelming that I will grasp any opportunity to act like him. The obligation will be self-imposed, but it will be driven by my desire to be one with him.
The Experience with Him (Transformation)
What leads to such a transformation? Love; pure, unadulterated love.
There is a moment in the movie Goodbye, Mr. Chips in which Chips, who has fallen in love, comes out of his office into the school courtyard to see that what previously was viewed as dismal black-and-white surroundings has been transformed into a full technicolor scene. It’s the same place he passed every day, but now he sees it like he never has before. He sees it through the eyes of love. He, not the place, is transformed.
Therein lies the crux of the issue: Am I willing to be vulnerable enough to be transformed by Love? Am I ready to discover the grace that surrounds me every moment of every day?
When I allow myself to be open, conversion will take place. It is the One’s complete confidence in “Love never fails” that will infect my being. In these daily encounters, I will be overwhelmed by his abundant mercy. In turn, I will offer to serve and, ultimately, to give myself totally. I will be a slave for Christ.
Easter morning will be a resurrection, for I will have let the old me die and will arise as a true follower, a disciple, of Jesus. Having walked with him, I will be more confident in the steps I take to proclaim my love. Some will call me a radical, for they will not have experienced the Triduum. Others will say I overdosed on God for the past 40 days but that in a week or so, I will come back to my senses and be normal again. Others will find me too intense and back away. There may even be a few who will be drawn to my intensity but will be unable to sustain the Alleluia that is burning in my soul.
The 50 days of Easter will pass quickly, and certainly the routine of life may slowly slip back into my pattern. But it can’t ever be the same since I have been transformed. Having been embraced by grace, I can never forget the feeling. Imbedded in my memory are those long walks we took each evening, and the mornings when we read his love letters full of Good News, and the afternoons when we studied the lives of others who accepted this invitation. I may not carry the same fire immediately following those 40 days, but I will not be the same.
Once we have been loved unconditionally, we cannot forget that all of creation is full of the wonder of God. Simply standing with arms outstretched enables us to feel the arms of love surrounding us. We embrace the grace.
“Care to spend the afternoon together, just the two of us?”
Lee Nagel is the Executive Director of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership.
Copyright 2012, Bayard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Bayard, Inc.
This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, February 2012.
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