The Pilgrimage Of The Heart
The season of Lent invites us to make a pilgrimage. As a child I enjoyed the soft, crisp pancakes my mother made on Shrove Tuesday, the day when the tradition of Lenten fast called for the pantry to be emptied of milk, butter and eggs and other rich foods. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, friends of mine would give up eating candy or chocolate during Lent. The forty days of Lent were marked off for us with customs which had continued down through the centuries—customs of food, small fasts, and occasional church attendance. Like the people of Israel to whom the prophet speaks in Isaiah 58, we had no idea that Yahweh was calling us to a much deeper obedience:
to loose the bonds of injustice,... to let the oppressed go free... to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; (58:6,7)
This is the obedience of giving up power, of seeing our need for position and protection for what it is.
Jesus led his disciples on a pilgrimage, beginning in the far north of the Hermon mountain range in the area of Caeserea Philippi and walking south toward Jerusalem. As he walks Jesus begins
to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
What!? Peter takes him aside and protests. But Jesus had settled what kind of Messiah he is called to be in his own "Lenten journey" during the forty days in the wilderness. He had relinquished power to God, and refused the offer of worldly riches and might.
Now such calls to fasting from injustice and false claims to power do not make the headlines or become the lead story on the evening news. Rightly so. The Lenten fast is a fast for the heart and is done before God rather than others:
So whenever you do something (for) a needy person, do not make a big show of it...do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. ...And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. (Mt 6:2-4 TEV)
The pilgrimage draws us to walk within the landscape of our own heart, paying attention to what we grasp and protect. (Mt 6:19-21) Jesus stands there, calling us to let go of what the world's system calls valuable, and to open our hands and life to receive his Way:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
"Listen to him!" (Mark 8:34, 9:7)
Wendy J. Miller Eastern Mennonite Seminary Harrisonburg, VA