On Sunday, I was thinking over the previous week, a discipline I do in preparation for worship. I reflect on when I've been aware of God's presence, and when I've missed God and why. Some weeks are full of encounters with God, and some, like last week, seem to be devoid of such experiences. As I considered why that might have been the case, it dawned on me that it was the middle of Lent and maybe that had something to do with my spiritual dryness.
The middle is not always a good place to be. The first week or so of Lent, I was excited to have begun the pilgrimage. For weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, I had been thinking about Lent, and what discipline would I take on for this forty-day journey as preparation for Easter. Like many anticipated journeys, there is excitement as the journey begins. The newness of the endeavor and the immediately apparent changes are reasons for celebration. Every step feels fresh. Every day of successfully practicing a new discipline is a victory.
But in the middle the new has worn off. The wilderness is now THE wilderness, where every day dawns much the same as the one before. The initial excitement is gone, and the pilgrimage now feels more like a forced march. Day after day, step after step. The end is too far out to motivate me forward, so I am in a dry and weary land in the middle of Lent.
The middle is where perseverance is needed, because the initial momentum is gone and it's too early for the final surge to the finish. In this place, the temptations aren't the big things, but the small ones. It's not the sharks, but instead the guppies--that look so harmless and actually kind of tickle as they nibble on my toes--that break my skin and allow my life to leak out of me ever so slowly. These nibbles come in many forms--the short answer given when someone says a hurtful word, the feeling-sorry-for-myself that results from being overlooked, the impatience with a lonely neighbor who talks too much.
I've been reading Living With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, by Esther de Waal. The author notes that we face a "ceaseless round of daily duties," but that Benedict asks us to pray through all of this. So maybe that is the discipline needed to persevere through the middle part of the pilgrimage. Pray when I encounter others, pray when I am frustrated, pray when the scenery isn't changing, pray when I cannot see the end in sight. Pray for safe travels.