By Fran Lavelle
It’s Lent, people! We all have traditions that surround and mark the season. For many of us, we mark the season with attendance at Stations of the Cross, daily Mass, and joining fellow parishioners for fish fries, going to reconciliation, or giving up our favorite sweet or spirit. For others, we decide to “take on” a spiritual practice instead of giving something up. There are so many opportunities to make Lent more meaningful. And, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy we really need to take advantage of the season.
Let us not forget that Lent is also a call to a life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We should aim to be transformed by these observances not just putting our “ordinary time” selves on pause. I’d like to visit with my 30 or 40 year old self on Ash Wednesday and see if there are parts of a younger Fran that I no longer recognize for the better or worse. To be sure I’d encourage younger Fran NOT to give up coffee as no grace came out of that experience for anyone.
In more recent years, I have tried to enter into the season by developing and recognizing opportunities to “be still and know God.” I have found that these opportunities translate into time for more focused prayer. And, the more I focus on my relationship with God the more I am able to see opportunities for fasting and giving alms. When I spend that critical quiet time with God I find myself asking what God is asking of me. What is His will in the various situations and circumstances of my own life?
Thankfully for me the holy season of Lent is also a favorite time at the orchard as it is the time we prune the muscadine vines. The spiritual implications are not lost on me. With each plant care is given to determine its overall health and to determine how much to prune from each one to maximize growth in the coming fruit season.
I have found great peace in taking my time cutting away last year’s vines and shaping the plant for this year’s growth. It is a job that one must remain present to the plant as to not butcher it, but one’s mind can wander a bit perhaps noticing the chill in the air, the sounds of farm life beyond the orchard, wild waterfowl, or a distant train horn.
It is during those moments when I am truly connected not only to my task at hand but also to the awesome world God created.
I am present to those who came before me. Our cat Soul Patch often accompanies me in the orchard. She is not only a great companion but an incredible reminder of being present to the moment. I find myself feeling more alive because I am truly present. That’s a lesson Soul Patch has helped me understand as well. Cat lovers easily understand this.
Sometimes I fill the time with pure silence asking only of God to be by my side. At other times I am working through a problem or difficult situation so I talk to God and ask for inspiration. Other times I may open myself up to creativity for ideas for a retreat talk or ministry opportunity.
In my spiritual pruning during the season of lent I am left with the same inevitable question every year. It is a difficult question to ask and even more difficult to respond to. What parts of my life need to be pruned away in order for me to experience new growth in my relationship with God? Over the years, the answer has changed. It seems at this season of my life I am being called to let go of past hurts. In that act of letting go, I am freed to fill that space with forgiveness. When we prune away the things that keep us from true intimacy with God we become free to love more profoundly, forgive more readily, rebuild and restore trust more resolutely, and open ourselves up to new growth.
You don’t need a muscadine vine to open yourself up to the question. One only needs a quiet place to reflect on where God is calling them. I have found in my relationship with God that the most courageous step is in asking the question. The answer will come and while it may challenge us in the end we will see the wisdom gained.
With each passing year, no matter where I find myself spiritually, I know the time I spend pruning will yield great results in my spiritual life as much as it will provide great growth for that particular plant. May God bless you during this holy season of lent! May your Lenten pruning yield great spiritual growth. Happy pruning!
(Fran Lavelle is the director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)