It seems counterintuitive, but Lent is all about abundance. When we focus on a time of renunciation and discipline, these are not ends in themselves, but the conditions necessary for the enrichment of our imagination.
Our Deuteronomy passage is set in the land of Moab, beyond the Jordan, maybe where Jesus went after his baptism and ordination. The 40 years in the wilderness are over, and the children of Israel have not yet been allowed into the Promised Land.
Why do we humans so love to fake goodness? Year after year Lent brings another shout-out to the soul. Year after year we find ourselves dragged forward against the grain of our pretensions of religiosity, through the vulnerability of hearts tender with shames and fears, so that God may find us and make of us transmitters of a light other than our own.
At Epiphany, the feast of the shining, we come to the end of the journey that began six weeks ago with the portentous announcement of the coming of the Lord, the streaming of the nations toward Zion, and the invitation to walk in the light of the Lord. We find ourselves with an array of kings—Herod, David, the Magi—and a newborn child. We have become accustomed to understanding that the One coming in will do so quietly, in vulnerability, in the midst of violence, prepared for suffering. So it's easy to forget that the whole point is that all of these kings were left in the shade by the radiance of the King of kings.
All of the Spirit’s labor—the pruning of our imagination, the background work on our expectations—comes to fruition on Christmas Day, when we are brought into the Presence. The virgin who for nine months has been weaving the veil of the temple out of the material of her own body sits in stupefied and exhausted silence.
Isaiah gives us a vision of what the new anointed one will be like, what gifts he will have and how he will be someone run by Elsewhere—not by the criteria of groupthink, of lobbying groups. His criteria will give voice to the meek who have no voice and don’t know how to use a voice. His words will become the criteria for everything, much to the dismay of the wicked.
With each Sunday of Advent, it is as though the Spirit brings us deeper into the Presence by bringing us closer to having our feet on the ground, closer to the present, and closer to our own hearts. The divine Heart Surgeon is reconfiguring our desires so that we can inhabit both the Presence and the present. How else can we be made alive?
One of the things I love about the liturgical life of the church is the way that the Holy Spirit, quietly and gently, works on us. Through the texts and prayers set out each year in the lectionary the Spirit draws us ever more fully into the Presence. If we read the texts in a literalistic manner, it can sound as though week by week it is God who is undergoing change toward us.
One of the privileges of studying theology within the clerical formation programs of the Catholic Church is that you get to study philosophy first. For at least three years. In retrospect, the true extent of the privilege becomes clearer: when it comes time to study theology, the pupil has been primed to interpret, to be able to remove words and concepts from the meaning foisted on them by the gut, to separate them from inherited baggage, and to begin to detect where contemporary religious ideology and real thought might begin to diverge, and how to follow the latter.