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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
SEASONS OF GRACE
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
Return to the Lord, your God.
Joel 2:12, 13
Lent is not an intellectual exercise, but an affair
of the hear t. Ash Wednesday comes around
each year. We get ashes. We remember pr ayer,
fasting and almsgiving. We say we'll do better
at something, or not do something else at all.
Whatever sin or addiction has plagued us since
the turn of the year, the one we have not yet
managed to get rid of, despite our New Year's
resolution to somehow dislodge it at the roots,
Lent presents us with another chance. But how?
We think and we think and we plot and we
plan. If the use of too much Internet or salt or
sleep is on our minds, like the three little pigs
we huff and we puff until we blow those little
houses down, unfortunately to no avail. We
work away at our dependencies as if everything
depends on us. It does not. Every thing depends
on our own dependence on God. And we
cannot learn anything about that dependence
by thinking and plotting and planning -- by
huffing and puffing.
We need to open our hear ts. We need to
Some time ago, when I was relearning how to
pray for the umpteenth time, I realised that I
was just plain talking too much. Everything was
going on in my head. That was it. Just in my
head, nowhere else. I'd built a wall between me
and my emotions, a very pr actical thing to do
if you want to maintain control
over everything in life. It is not a
very practical way to approach
pr ayer, because it stifles the
longings of the heart. I year ned
for knowledge that I was really
pr aying, that I was someway
somehow connecting to the
said, at least, I wanted to follow
in the way Jesus taught.
But, as I lear ned in gr aduate school,
so long as I was talking -- in graduate
school in class or on an oral exam -- there
was no way I would be questioned, especially
no way I would be asked a question I could not
That may work in graduate school, but it is not
a smar t way to pray.
So here is what I have learned. Take it, or not,
as you begin your own journey through Lent.
Whether the ground around you is getting
colder or war mer, whether the light outside
is getting dimmer or brighter, I offer you the
suggestion, at least, that the desire you carr y
in your own heart to listen to and love the
Lord with all you are and have will be opened
and answered if you offer fir st of all your own
silence to the project.
That does not mean becoming a vegetable.
There are many ways of being silent, and many
aids to doing so. Of course, if you know what
keeps your mind active on thoughts
other than the thought of
the presence of God,
you should be able to
become aware of
when such thought
presents itself. I
hesitate to call
whatever it is a
"temptation", for it
may or may not be.
But there are some
things in our lives -- food,
music, conversations -- that
stick a little more firmly to the surface of
our minds and for m a sor t of coating that keeps
away the silence. I am not saying you need to
give up all conver sations or music, and cer tainly
not all food for Lent. I am saying that as we
become more and more aware of our need
for silence, even throughout this holy season,
one or some of these might pop up as a bit of
a barrier to silence, and therefore as a bit of a
barrier to our maintaining the type of silence
we need so as to be able to hear the voice of
God in our hearts.
Let me give you an example. I happen to
like ja zz. I kid around sometimes calling it my
"liturgical music" because the syncopation and
the words of some of the songs, especially the
love songs, often fit my mood when I am tr ying
to be alone at prayer. But sometimes, that very
syncopation and those very words become
an obstacle as they take over my mind. I think
here of what is called "the Bolero effect", the
repetitive beating of a single strand of music
that the French composer Maurice Ravel did
on purpose. As the syncopation and words
take over my mind, I find I am helpless to hear
anything God might present or even to say
anything to the Lord. So, sometimes -- actually
more than sometimes -- I "give up" jaz z.
Now, there is nothing wrong with ja zz. For
other people, for other people's minds, the
same thing might happen with Gregorian chant
or with ABBA, or with the music of the Beatles.
These are all wonder ful creations, but they can
each in their own way become distractions
to the project at hand. Which is silence with
an open hear t. Which is silence with an open
hear t before the Lord.
This is an extract from Phyllis Zagano Sacred
Silence : Daily Meditations for Lent Majellan
I realised that
I was just
LENT IS REALLY AN
AFFAIR OF THE HEART
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