The annual appearance of the “Little Black Books for Lent” at church the other day brought the imminence of the season home to me. From previous use, I recalled that the Black Book suggests beginning the Sunday before to make plans for Lenten observance, so that afternoon I let my mind wander around the idea of Lent.
Surprisingly, what came to me out of the blue was the word “desert,” capturing my attention with its unexpectedness. My immediate association was the Gospel accounts of Jesus withdrawing to the desert for 40 days to fast and pray before beginning his public ministry, which is certainly Lenten. I searched out descriptions and photos of deserts around the world. Recollecting that in the ancient church, the desert was a place to which holy people retreated to live ascetically as monks, I consulted a book from my shelf called The Forgotten Desert Mothers.
Ultimately these meanderings felt confusing, so I sat further with just the word, “desert.” What does it conjure?
Wide open space, wind, stillness, space apart, vastness, emptiness
An image of Lent itself as desert began to emerge, a conceptual view of the season as a unified whole, somehow separate yet also deeply connected to my daily life. I receive this image as a gift, because so often the traditional triad of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – have seemed disjointed to me. This year I’m greeting the season with curiosity to discover how the desert image will develop.