The concierge handed me a business card with the cell number for the Uber driver. I texted him. I was in a crafts shop when my phone pinged. The retired educator I had been speaking with paused her story as I checked my phone. The driver had replied that he had to go to school at that time, but did I wish him to ask his mom to take me? I asked the owner if his mom driving was standard policy for the town. The retired educator immediately offered to drive me to the school the next morning. At the end of the PD Talk one of the participating educators took me back to the hotel. Even as a visitor to the small town, I had been assigned a place within their community. I was the “Visiting Educator.” Throughout my visit, I was conscious of each community member sharing God’s love with me.
The first flight home touched down in a large metropolitan hub airport. I disembarked. Right in front of our gate was a middle-aged woman lying on the floor. As I walked towards the scene, another woman proceeded to kneel beside the prone figure. She was telling the airport security what she had seen happen when the woman fell. Without so much as a glance back, people continually streamed by on both sides of the fallen woman. Debating in my mind whether emergency procedures were well in hand or if my assistance were needed, I glanced at the guard with the walkie-talkie. His expression was one of boredom and contempt. He was pointedly looking away from the person on the floor. My icy stare towards him caught his eye and overlapped with the kneeling woman’s further inquiry about emergency personnel. The guard finally snapped into responding. A stretcher was approaching.
I stood there for a moment. I was deeply conscious of, and saddened by, what I had lost leaving that small town. Yet, the part I wish to focus upon is not the guard’s inaction, but his final choice to participate in assisting the fallen woman. That internal change of heart is what is meant by conversion. Conversion of heart is followed by changes in observable actions. Lent is about the call to conversion of heart for each of us.
Jesus tells the scholar of the law that the greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22: 37-39). On a good day, our minds readily acknowledge that part of the depth of our love of God is revealed in the love and compassion we share with our neighbors. Yet, on a busy day, swamped with work and deadlines, all the while barraged by society’s messages of “us” versus “them,” we may fall away from hearing and responding to God’s voice. We may even shift that balance point closer to loving me more than my neighbor.
Our Lenten practices are much more than small deficits we choose to accept asking they be accepted for penance for our sins. Each of us is asked to define for ourselves some self-sacrifice and some self-refinement practices. The sacrifice tones down the world’s voice (and my habits). The refinement practices allow reflection and opportunities for growth in compassion. We begin these dual Lenten practices by following Jesus’ example of separating from (or turning down the voices of the world) so as to spend more time in conversation with the Father. Together these sacrifice and growth practices invite us to shift our focus slightly back from me more towards my neighbor as myself.
One very visual story of finding and listening to God’s voice is found in the tale of Elijah in the cave on Mount Horeb (1 Kgs 19: 8 -14). Elijah travels 40 days to Mount Horeb. Elijah ignores the heavy wind, the earthquake, and the fire. Elijah moves to the mouth of the cave to better hear God’s gentle whisper.
We are akin to Elijah in that we instinctively recognize the voice of God when we hear it. Amazingly, the appeal of whatever positive new avenue we choose to explore for Lent is already the beginning of our response to God’s whisper. As we continue our Lenten journey, we each discern new ways or places where the outward sign of our growth is acting to bring God’s love to others. Each year we find and polish a tiny new part of the great person God designed and created us to be.
What are you doing for Lent? Check the parish bulletin for Lenten talks, find a few friends and volunteer together to make a difference, choose a book to guide reflection and growth, maybe read a biography of one of the saints, or better still follow that gentle whisper from inside guiding you to go forth and do.
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.