Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project.
I do not cycle in Edinburgh. Cycling on city roads feels alien to me. It is loud, smooth, treacherous, a series of rules that I do not fully grasp. I learnt how to cycle on country paths, dirt roads, and trail-ways. Often, the only way I could leave my own small town was to follow an abandoned railway, long since returned to nature and walking enthusiasts.
I would often follow this railway as long as I could, for hours at a time. The names of towns would become familiar, markers on my journey. Broadstone, Wimborne, Ferndown, West Moors, Ashley Heath, Ringwood. I would set out in the morning and ride until well into the afternoon. Reaching the end of myself, I would stop, rest, and then return.
Returning was difficult. At the outset these routes had been a promise of adventure, newness. I had followed this path because I did not know where I was going. But I knew where I was returning to. I knew, eventually, that my journey would involve returning.
At this beginning of Lent I am tempted to feel distant. To isolate myself within practice and self-denial, to reject a world I am intending to leave behind. Unlike Advent, Lent can be a somewhat solipsistic Christian tradition. We pride ourselves in our meditative practices and devotional sacrifice. We become very public about how giving up alcohol has brought us closer to God. On the first day of Lent I even tweeted a verse from Biblehub.com. In some way I think I wanted to show off.
The common comparison between Lent and the Gospel is in Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. In this story, Jesus retreats into the wilderness to fast and pray, while the devil tempts him. This is often placed before Jesus has any notable following, even before recruiting his disciples.
Jesus was private about this retreat. He does not mention it to his disciples later in the gospel. I wonder what it means to live privately. Even this morning I sent out a quick tweet mentioning that I was going to Mass. I don’t want to bemoan the ‘evils of social media,’ because I don’t believe in that. Rather, I am wondering how live with integrity, alone before God, wheresoever they manifest.
In this, I remember that Jesus returned from the wilderness. These times of retreat are not indefinite. When we reach the end of our journey into the wilderness, we can always return. The return may be painful, difficult, or even boring. But it is necessary, should we grow in our understanding of ourselves and each other.
In this time of Lent I am trying to be private where I can, quiet where I am tempted to be congratulatory. To follow where this path leads with a limited time, until it draws to a close.