Lent I "Deserts and Seas" The Desert: a place of wild beasts and demons; of roaming, tormented spirits; the dangerous meeting place of God and frail human beings; the strange abode of ministering angels. Here the devil prowls like a roaring lion seeking souls to devour. In Lent, Christians are called again to the soul's desert but without John the Baptist for an advent guide.Rather, as John of the Cross wrote, we go forth "with no other light or guide than the one burning in my heart."
During Lent this year the Hebrew scriptures take us week by week through covenants in our holy history. This Sunday the church offers us consideration of the rainbow-sign of the covenant with Noah. It is worth taking time with patristic and medieval typologies of the Ark itself: the Church is the Ark. Lent is the Ark. Wisdom is the Ark. Even our heart is the Ark – a place of safety and yet a place of transformation. Enclosed and tossed upon turbulent seas of sin and chaos and culture, these 40 days of Lent give us a time of growing, transformation, renewing our lives from the core of our hearts. Thus, we emerge from Lent and Holy Week to face again the uncreated Light of the Resurrection, the shadow of which we observed at the Transfiguration.
But we have to prepare rigorously to meet this new Light. And so we make our way into the desert, or seal ourselves up into the ark to practice a 40 day "Night of Purification" in this Season of the Soul.
Meditation One Safe in the Ark?
One day, speaking about conversion of the heart, the Abbot told this story to one of the brothers: Once there was a woman of ill repute in a city.She had many lovers.The governor approached her and said: "If you promise me you will behave properly, I will take you for my wife."She promised, he married her and took her to his own home. The lovers who still wanted her, said; "That official has taken her, If we risk going into the palace, he'll catch us and punish us.But we'll get out of that.Let's go round the back and whistle to her.She'll hear it and come down, and then we'll be all right." But the woman, when she heard them whistling, blocked her ears, bolted the doors and hid herself in the innermost part of the house. The old man explained the story.The woman of ill repute is our soul.Her lovers are our passions.The governor is Christ.The innermost part of the house is our heavenly dwelling place.The whistlers are the devils.But the soul can always find refuge with its Lord. - Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Patrologia cursus Completus, PG65
Let the enemy rage at the gate, let him knock, let him push, let him cry, let him howl, let him do worse; we know for certain that he cannot enter save by the door of our consent.
- Francis de Sales
Meditation Two Safe in the Ark? Maybe not. Guess Who came along? Remember brother, in abandoning the world and conquering vice you give the devil more reason to be enraged, and he will feel particular hatred and rancor against you.If it seems he has retreated, beware, for he is busy re-arming and mustering stronger forces .... Because God does not allow the devil room for his attack against beginners, the demon's wrath steals up a narrow path, but it rushes along a spacious road toward those who have conquered him at least once. - Francisco de Osuna, Third Spiritual Alphabet, Seventh Treatise, Chapter Two
And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. -Luke 4:13
It is a mark of the evil spirit to take on the appearance of an angel of light.He begins by whispering thoughts that are suited to a devout soul, and ends by suggesting his own. -Ignatius Loyola
But, there's hope.
We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.Many who may seem to us to be children of the Devil will still become Christ's disciples. - Francis of Assisi
Detail, St. Michael, Master of Legend of St. Ursula, 1480-1500
The Tempation of Jesus, Duccio, 1308-11, The Frick Collection
Even as a very young child, the story of eight worthy people floating safely above a deluge destroying life and humanity disturbed me.What I sensed of God did not seem consonant with purposeful destruction. I love the way the wandering rabbis in the Zohar solve this problem.
How did the Blessed Holy One respond when Noah came out of the ark and saw the whole world destroyed and began to cry over the holocaust?Noah said, "Master of the world, You are called Compassionate!You should have shown compassion for Your creatures!"The Blessed Holy One answered him, "Foolish shepherd! Now you say this, but not when I spoke to you tenderly, saying 'Make yourself an ark of gopher wood ... As for Me, I am about to bring the Flood ... to destroy all flesh' ... I lingered with you spoke to you at length so that you would ask for mercy for the world!But as soon as you heard that you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch your heart.You built the ark and saved yourself.Now that the world has been destroyed you open your mouth to utter questions and pleas?"
The rabbis discuss how both Abraham (Genesis 18:20-23) and Moses (Exodus 32:8,11,32) argued, cajoled, and bargained with God, thus saving the men and women of their generations.
And Noah? The Blessed Holy One lingered with him and spoke many words to him; perhaps he would ask for mercy for his generation.But he did not care and did not ask for mercy.He just built the ark and the whole world was destroyed.
Zohar, Daniel Chanan Matt, translator, Paulist Press edition pp.58-9
Noah's Sacrifice, Placidus, 11th Century, France
Collect for the First Sunday in Lent Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.