It’s Ash Wednesday. Are you ready for Lent?

This first appeared in the State Journal-Register, February 21, 2021 under the title Now! Near! Turn! Believe!

Think about what happens when you sight a rainbow. First you see and are caught by the vision. There is an immediacy, a now-ness, to it. If alone, you might give it your whole attention until it fades from view. Or you might search for someone to share it with. In the presence of a rainbow I’ve been known to grab the attention of the nearest stranger and call out “Look!” If they don’t immediately see it, I might redirect their attention: Turn! Look over here! (You too?  Or is it just me?) And finally, because we know the rainbow as the sign of God’s covenant with Earth, for people of faith the rainbow is a reminder to believe God’s promise.

Now! Near! Turn! Believe!

These are the movements of faith we are called to during Lent, which begins today for Christians.

This message is echoed in today’s gospel. Mark writes that after spending 40 days among beasts being tempted by Satan and ministered to by angels, Jesus returns to Galilee “after John’s arrest.” Sensing his moment, Jesus announces “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.”

Now! Near! Turn! Believe! The call of Lent. As urgent as Jesus makes this task sound—and it is urgent—please don’t rush. Lent is not a marathon you run. It is a process of transformation you enter into.

  • Pay attention. Give yourself time to notice what God is doing in or through you. Allow God some space to move.
  • Are you wearing yourself out responding to the needs of your family, neighborhood, or service group? Then perhaps carve out a moment to slow yourself down and reflect appreciatively about what compels you. Have you grown complacent about something that really matters to you? Are you mindlessly engaging in spiritual practices that now feel rote or meaningless? What would help you appreciate them anew?
  • If you really want Lent to be an opportunity to respond God’s lead, small steps are enough. Instead of adding to a full checklist of stuff to accomplish each day, what about taking something away? Can you make space for five minutes of silence? Steal it from your scrolling, or binge-watching. Heck, steal it from the dusting, if you must. But steal just five minutes for the gift of reflecting on these four small words.

Now! What is happening around me at this moment? Where are my thoughts? Who or what is in my heart? Let go of the superfluous—refocus on the important.

Near! Why do you suppose your attention is focused where it is? Why is this need, or that friend, or that worry top-of-mind for you?

Turn! How are you called to respond? If it is within your power, do that thing immediately. Adjust your attitude in a way that will give you a more pleasant or fruitful day, for example. Breathe a prayer of gratitude for your friend. Just rest for a moment. If now is not the time, then resolve to do the thing when you can. Does a sick friend need a cheery card? Could a cause you care about be advanced by an hour of volunteer time? Maybe your elected official could make a better-informed decision if you share your perspective on a pressing issue. When these things become important to you, you will find the time.

Finally, believe. Believe the good news Jesus proclaims. Believe this one small step, that moment of silent prayer, a minor inconvenience you’ve allowed yourself, or the anger you’ve let fall away—is connected to the whole universe and makes a difference, however minute.

Sister Elizabeth MurphySister Beth Murphy, OP, is the communication director for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield.  

Visit our Lenten landing page for weekly Lenten reflection articles.

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