Lent almost always surprises me. I choose the book/s I’ll read and the Lenten calendar template I’ll use with the book. I have the forty days well-planned; I am in control. Then I am spun around and led in a different direction. I often describe my doodling as “a line taking me for a walk,” like an undisciplined dog that drags me around the neighborhood. Lent is kind of like that. Within a few days, the journey is different from my original plans. Even if I manage to keep to the “plan” and read, write, and draw daily, what emerges from the words and the doodles is unexpected, unpredictable. Lent, with its own agenda, is taking me for a 40-day trust walk, a journey into the wilderness.
I had two lovely books picked out for this Lent: The Little Book of Lent complied by Canon Arthur Howells with multiple contributors and a book of poems, one for each day called.Word in the Wilderness by Malcolm Guite. I chose the Desert template I designed this year and planned to use the subtle colors of the desert, maybe even try watercolors. But then the first pilgrims in two years arrived at St. George’s College Jerusalem where I am living and working, and we were off on daily excursions in the Holy Land. It became clear that the “words” I would use this year were not in books but in the visual world around me, in this beautiful and complicated land—in its geography, its stories, its history, its religious traditions, its interaction with God and the prophets and Jesus. This year’s Lent has felt like a Visio Divina, a time of prayer with the eyes, “a sacred seeing.” Some people describe this as “praying with the eyes of the heart.” Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1:18 says, “May the eyes of your heart be enlightened.” (NIV)
At the end of the 9-day St. George’s pilgrimage, I flew to London to be with a dear friend whose husband died three months ago. The unpredictability of her grief and tears has been a long wilderness experience, one with no clear end-of-Lent timetable. We spent two weeks in London and Paris walking, seeing art, dancing, walking, attending dance performances, walking, talking, remembering, spending time with friends, and eating in an unLenten fashion. As I, and more and more of my friends, grow older I want to see this time with eyes wide open, not regretting or worrying or being afraid, but opening to this surprising journey of loss and richness and diminishment and gratitude.