My head is spinning. Literally. As those of you who have had vertigo before know full well, it isn’t fun. I appreciate your kind thoughts and prayers that I might soon regain a normal sense of balance.
I happen to be reading a book of prayers and essays by poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama. Turns out, he once had vertigo too. He thought he had been lifted up by a tornado. He could not understand what was happening. When his doctor told him it was vertigo, he thought he didn’t want his brain to give him such a literal experience of the metaphorical feeling that we all sometimes have in life, that solid ground is shifting beneath our feet. He lay in a darkened room with a cloth over his eyes feeling not only dizzy and sick but foolish and alone. Days and weeks passed.
Then he remembered audio books. He got the longest one he could find: “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth. It was 72 hours of “gossip, politics, flowers, saris, independence, post partition negotiations, economic woes, melodrama, violence, friendship, and affection.” Now he had company!
Later still, he began to think about how Jesus went into solitary isolation, pushed by the power of an invisible Spirit. Jesus, too, he recalled, passed the time hearing voices and conversing with them. Ó Tuama wonders: did Jesus know in advance how long he would be in the wilderness? Was he able to count down the days or did he have to endure an openended period of “not ordinary” time? Was he waiting for something in particular, or was he feeling held in place by mystery and uncertainty?
Perhaps one reason the Christian church developed the tradition of Lent was that having to enter an unfamiliar, uneasy, uncomfortable environment is a common human experience. Whether we are going through dislocation, illness, grief, or wrestling mightily over our direction in life, we do sometimes encounter a span of time that feels lonely, disorienting, and long. The 40 day season, prior to Easter, when we commemorate the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, gives us an opportunity each year to reflect on what we are learning about the gifts God has for us, and to consider our place and purpose in the world. Perhaps practicing Lent together with others each year helps us to prepare for those occasions when “time in the wilderness” is unexpectedly thrust upon us.
Lent begins in mid February this year. May it be a time of knowing we are loved and cared for by God.