A time of waiting by Chris McDonnell CT February 16 th 2018
The cycle of liturgical seasons continues and now we find
ourselves a few days into Lent this year, days of reflection and
remaking, a time to pause.
Through the coming weeks we will still have the daily chores,
work to do, shopping at the supermarket and all the general
concerns of family life. Day in, day out, the effort of being who
we are continues unabated.
So what does it mean to talk of ‘a time to pause?’ Naming the
season that leads through to the Triduum gives opportunity of
treating these days as a time that is special, in whatever way
we wish to mark their passing.
We often talk about taking one step at a time or, as the
Chinese proverb reminds us ‘a journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step’.
Maybe we should treat Lent in a similar manner. Setting out a
grand framework of things to do can only lead to frustration
and disappointment when we fail to reach our target. So how
about taking the steps of this Lent one day at a time? our
experience of life can change so quickly and the strap line
‘Breaking News’ becomes a familiar adjunct to our television
screen. Detail of world-wide events cannot help but affect our
mood and emotions, whatever our intentions that day. A line of
John Lennon is very pertinent “life is what happens to you
when you’re busy making other plans”. He wrote those words
into the song Beautiful Boy, released on the Album ‘Double
Fantasy’. Although others had used a similar phrase before
him, his name and those words from that song are forever
associated. Three weeks after the album’s release, Lennon was
shot outside the Dakota building in Manhattan.
So, one day at a time. Some of our days this Lent will be
unavoidably hectic, the rush and scurry leaving us exhausted
by late evening. We collapse into bed thankful for a still point in
a turning world. A brief few words from Night Prayer might be
all we can manage. “Save us Lord while we are awake, protect
us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and
rest with him in peace”.
There will be other days that are less jam-packed, where the
treadmill slows down and we have unaccustomed time and
space that is not determined by others, where time is our own.
Maybe then we can reflect on our Christian pilgrimage, over a
drink in the coffee house, over a book or when taking the dog
for a walk.
The image of desert is always a part of Lent, the days of Jesus
in the barren Judaic land, a time of separation and temptation.
It was a model taken up by the Desert Fathers in the first
centuries of the Christian era. There are still communities that
reflect those times, the ancient monastery of St Catherine in
the Sinai desert can trace its roots back to the 3
From the early 7
century an Accord reached with Mohammed
has ensured peaceful co-operation between Christians and
In the US, the monastery of Christ in the Desert, some 18
miles from Albuquerque in New Mexico, is a Cistercian
community that follows in the same tradition.
But that is only for a few; the vast majority of us live far from
the desert experience, yet we also can find that odd moment of
peace and stillness, a slip-away time that is valued, a time
when we can be ourselves and breathe the solitude we rarely
How do we make the best of it? Not with grandiose plans and
extravagant activities but in small, almost insignificant, ways.
The open hand we offer to others, the time we take to listen,
the simple words we give in response, all in their own way
moments of prayer. A doctor once reported that Mother
Theresa visiting children in a hospital, offered a quick prayer
and started ordering nappies. His comment? ‘A practical saint’
She also offered these few words ‘Before you speak, it is
necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the
heart’. Above all, our Lent should be a time of listening.
In our western culture, listening is an acquired skill. We have
lost the experience of quiet time, silence, that space between
words, the opportunity to consider what we hear before we
rush into making a response, is scarce.
So how about a ‘Listening Lent’ this year? Unhurried and
meditative, moments without rush and hurry, time ‘to be’ in
order that we might better understand ‘how to do’. When our
light is dimmed, leaving only the sight of blind eyes and
deafness of ignorance, it is time to start again.