Back to school or back to Lent?



This spring semester feels like an entirely new academic year. Ten weeks is a long time for Christmas break, and it was such a separation that the return to campus is more so a new beginning. In fact, I sense more of a familiarity in the return to the Lenten disposition than a familiarity in the return to the rhythm of school in this strange academic calendar, because the mentality of this liturgical season hearkens back to the overarching theme of last semester.

As we finished the fall semester in November, I characterized it as “intense.” There were especially memorable birthday celebrations, blossoming new friendships and other landmark events (e.g., the Clemson game) that were incredibly joyful; but there was also a lot of serious purgation of my own heart and of my desires for myself and for others, not to mention unrelenting academic stress, the unexpected deaths of two students and various other worries. The fall semester was intense.

It was a dual intensity because both the highs and lows were always manifest in the extreme. In short, the brilliance of God’s love unfailingly shone through the constant pressure. On the other side of last semester, I am grateful for the growth and very optimistic for this spring, and as the Church dedicates these next several weeks to purgation, I pray that I can forego the external turmoil that initiated so much of last fall’s intensity and instead discover a holy intensity that springs from my interior life.

The rhythm of human life is no stranger to God’s purifying fire, and biblical figures were quite familiar with it. Judith reprimanded the Israelite elders when they feared the Assyrians:

“We should be grateful to the Lord our God, for putting us to the test, as he did our forefathers. Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother. Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in the crucible to try their hearts, nor has he done so with us. It is by way of admonition that he chastises those who are close to him” (Judith 8:25-27).

I pray that God blesses us with a Lent of holy intensity and that we embrace this season as a crucible for our benefit. Even if we have already traversed deserts of circumstance in this past year, I pray that we do not abandon the invitation to this desert in our spiritual lives.

This year, the desert is more beautiful to me. I know there is an oasis in thirty or so days, I know that oasis is a taste of the paradise beyond, and I know Christ has laid out the path and walks beside me, an ever strong but gentle guide. I see the vibrant colors of the cactus flowers and the millions of stars visible at night. So, dare I say: let the sun beat down and the heat cause us to leave behind all nonessential items. Let the desert be intense, so as to smelt our hearts of all impurities. Let us sweat and trek together and sate our thirst with only the “living water” Christ provides (John 4:10).