By Carolyn Shields
I spent the other day swallowing frustration til it bubbled over at work and I was wiping tears in the bathroom. That night, the eve of Lent, I took it to prayer. Even at my most short-tempered, inpatient, and prickly self, my God wants to be with me. And even when He doesn’t make a lick of sense either, I want to be with Him too. We’re a team.
This is what I reflected on, and once I said my part, I fell into that silence that provides the space for God to respond. We were about to embark on another season together, you know, called Lent, and I wanted to hear where His thoughts were at. In this silence, He spoke, but on this night, He did so with an image.
It was the ground directly before our feet and it was dotted with blood that trailed forward. That was it. But it was enough to know: we’ve been here before.
It’s not always unchartered territory with Him, but sometimes those landscapes that we’ve been to before are the hardest ones to face. We know what’s in that wilderness, and we’ve experienced that desert before, and we can be familiar with the shape of hell.
But together, we still go forward, even knowing what’s before us. That sounds super romantic and lyrical, but there’s also a flip side. Though we may be terrified of the unknown, our fear may exasperate when we know what we’re facing, but there’s also this strange sort of comfort that comes with this familiarity. Why? Because since you’ve been here before, experience provides knowledge.
Last Sunday I was reading about the crises in the Church during the 14th century—the whole Avignon Papacy Moves To France one, and a friend remarked, “Can’t you just imagine what it must have been like to be Catholic at that time?”
And, well, yes. I can. But reading about the total corruption and abuse that was running rampant in the Church in the 1300s gave me a strange source of comfort for our Church today, knowing that we’ve been here before. That we’ve been knee deep in catastrophe, and somehow we came through. In a word, it’s hope.
So this Lent, whether you’re revisiting hell, or buckling up for another forty days in the desert, or suffering with our Church, remember that we’ve been here before. And we might be back, one day. So stay attentive to the landmarks, to what’s revealed to you, and when you inevitably find yourself lost, look for that trail of blood.
Because He’s been here before you.