The readings for Ash Wednesday are powerful. We hear the voice of God in the book of Joel saying to his people, “come back to me with all your heart”. We have turned away from God in our own lives and we too are invited to hear the voice of God, through the Prophet, pleading with us to turn back to him. On our return journey during Lent, we recognise our need of God and our need to be healed. We continue our journey to Easter Sunday, which is the celebration of God’s new life in Christ and in us.
This image of stopping, turning around and journeying back to God is a strong one. The Church is often called a pilgrim people, with life as one long journey returning to God who is our Creator.
The quotation by Pope Francis – mentioned at the beginning of this reflection – has a different image of how grace works in our lives. It is one of the most poignant images in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, where he is inviting us to consider our lives in the context of our environment. In the encyclical, Francis describes how we have shut the door on what he calls “authentic humanity”, which is humanity as God created it to be. He asks us to notice that the way we are living is destroying the environment, alienating the poor and breaking up the human family. However, in spite of our sinfulness and rejection of our authentic selves, Francis says that what is good and beautiful in human beings seems to always slip under the door, like a fine mist.
Instead of thinking of Lent this year as a long and difficult journey that we have to take towards the Divine, perhaps we can use the image that Pope Francis gives us of God’s grace slipping into our lives, like a mist under all the doors we have closed. Lent could then become not a time of stopping and turning around and walking back, but of stopping and surrendering to the God who is already there – waiting for us.