It is a curious thing that the most beautiful season in the hills east of San Francisco usually coincides with Lent, a penitential time. The hills surrounding our house are a deep green from February through May, if we have enough rain. By Memorial Day the green grassy slopes dry to a golden brown until next year’s watering.
Angel Mountain, aka Mount Diablo, rises behind our house, and the white cross on its flanks stands bright against the green. Beyond the cross, the mountain rises to meet the sky, today a brilliant blue, the air blown clear by a brisk breeze.
Lent is a time of waiting and watching, the new year leaving winter behind and looking to spring. It is also a time of healing, of reconciling the accounts of our lives. As we did with New Year’s resolutions, we reflect on the path we have traveled and consider whether we have lost our way. We repent our wrong choices. We confess them to our Creator, to our Savior, with true tears.
The tears we cry water the brown parched places of our heart, like spring rains. We are watered with our own remorse, in hopes the promise is true – that we are forgiven when we repent, that we are forgiven when we forgive others who repent: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Our Lord told us to pray.
Can there be forgiveness without repentance? I think not. “Go and sin no more,” Jesus commanded. And so we find the right path through the hills to the mountaintop intersecting the sky. We find the straight and narrow path of righteousness, led by the Shepherd whose voice we have come to know.
One of our preachers this morning (I tuned in to three liturgies and am becoming a sermon junkie) made the remarkable observation that we are to pray to God forcefully with no hesitation, as the Canaanite woman did, begging, in the Gospel today. We too are to ask as she did, arguing that even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table. And indeed, she was forceful in her tone. When we petition God, we nearly demand, as the Psalmist does, crying out to God for help and healing and protection. Indeed, in The Lord’s Prayer, the model given to us by Christ Himself, the direct requests are clear: Give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us. Our preacher said that in this way we get God’s attention. In this way He sees us, and we become sanctified as we travel through our time on Earth because He sees us.
All we do in the liturgy, all of our work we can call good, is for a simple reason – to be seen by God, to be sanctified. And as we are seen, we see.
We were blind, and now we see. It’s really not that complicated, the preacher said. God is our Father, and He loves us. He wants a relationship with us through His Son. And so we include in every prayer, “In the name of Jesus, Amen” as Christ told us to do. We are to ask in Jesus’ Holy Name, and we will be heard and seen by our Heavenly Father.
I have a prayer list of family and friends for whom I pray by name each evening. I add to this lovely necklace special requests for others, those I see suffering, those who have asked for my prayers. Sometimes I rattle off the names too quickly, by rote, and I try to slow down, to see the name with its face. The names are called out and as I say the name, the person enters my consciousness, bringing sweet memories of friendship, kinship, fellowship. I also pray for those who have trespassed against me and whom I have forgiven, as we are commanded to do. This is a stretch at times but is always a surprising balm for my soul. I pray for our leaders, for our country, for our Church, for our clergy, some by name.
Lent is a time of healing and as I watch the national stage and the currents of change not all for the good, some frightening, some discouraging, some a prelude to disaster, I know this is only a temporal time, a span on Earth we are given. But since it is our time we are responsible for what we do with our time. And we pray for the healing of our nation, the healing of our people, that God’s light shines in our nation’s darkness. We pray for freedom and faith and churches wide open to the suffering souls clamoring to enter. We pray for an end to mask mandates, to lockdowns, to fear itself.
In my recently released novel, Angel Mountain, the hermit Abram preaches from the hillside and baptizes in the pond near the white cross. The waterfall pouring into the pond is cold, but the line of penitents grows. Other not so penitent hover on the edges of the crowd, tapping their phones, feeding frenzied social media and calling Abram’s words hate speech. As masked Antifa move toward the hermit, police divert them. Suddenly lightning flashes above the mountain and thunder rumbles. The rain falls, splashing and dispersing the crowd into the day’s darkness.
Our world is fallen and falling still, careening downwards. But we are called in our time to heal our time with our time. For we are no longer blind. We see God and are seen by God. We are called to water our people with Christ. In Lent, we are called to remember the promise of Easter’s resurrection, the white cross rising on the green hillside.