One summer evening a friend and I went star gazing. We drove along a country road leaving the lights of town far behind us. After a relaxing drive we were in the country. We parked the car and walked into a field next to the road. After spreading a blanket, we lay on the ground and looked up at the sky. Being dutiful star-gazers, we compared what we saw to the star maps we carried with us. The constellations were brilliant dots in the inky black sky. There were so many stars! And we could see them so clearly – it was easy to find the patterns and match them to the named constellations on our star maps. Here in the country, away from the streetlights and blinking signs of the town, the stars stood out in dazzling relief. There were no artificial lights to distract us, not even a moon to disturb our vision; there were only the stars to hold our focus and we could concentrate on them without the usual visual distractions. The beauty of the stars was obvious when we saw them without the “light pollution” of town, and we easily comprehended the patterns spread above us.

Lent can be like that night of star gazing. Lent is an invitation to remove ourselves from our everyday lives. We leave behind the town in which we usually dwell and enter a land free from things which distract our vision and divert our attention. We are separated from our usual routines. This Lent is a strange land lacking things which normally occupy our time. In place of our usual habits, Lent imposes new schedules for prayer, fasting and spiritual discipline.

Lent is darkness, but it is a darkness not of loneliness and despair but darkness as a background – this dark background enables us to see more clearly the pinpoints of God’s action in our lives. Lent removes the “light pollution” of our lives to enable us to discern the patterns created by the pinpoints, just as the darkness of the country enabled my friend and me to discern the constellations among the stars.

God is always at work in all our lives. God’s constant work of love among us and in us is fundamental to the Jewish-Christian faith story. God’s work is not “busy work” – God’s work is purposeful activity guiding us toward new understanding of Him and toward the extension of His kingdom. The Scriptures tell stories of God’s work, and reading the Scriptures we can see how seemingly independent actions work together to fulfill God’s purpose. However, when we look at our own lives we often do not discern a pattern to events. The problem is not with God’s work; the problem is with our vision.

God has a purpose and a pattern for each of us. Lent is an opportunity to clear and improve our vision by removing distractions, an opportunity to focus on the points of God’s light and to understand patterns in our spiritual lives.

The purpose of a Lenten discipline is simple and basic: to help remove distractions so that we can see more clearly God’s action in our lives, and to develop an understanding of the purpose and pattern of our life events. Armed with this knowledge we greet Easter and the renewal of our baptismal vows better prepared to serve God and extend His kingdom.

Lord, open our eyes to see Your work,
our ears to hear Your words,
our hearts to feel Your love,
and our hands to receive Your gifts.

copyright 2009 by the author