First a story: Missionaries were traveling in Africa accompanied by natives who acted not only as guides, but also as the ones who carried the luggage, supplies and other materials. The missionaries were anxious to get to their destination which was only accessible on foot, and proposed an ambitious schedule to which the group kept for three days. On the fourth day, the guides would not pick up the camp and move. When the missionaries inquired why, the one who acted as translator said: “We have moved too fast. We have to wait for our souls to catch up.”
I know that feeling. Most of us live a hectic pace, even nuns who have dedicated their lives to prayer and service of God’s people. We knew how to multi-task even before we ever heard the word. We acquire modern communication devices – things like cell phones, blackberries, netbooks, and smartphones – in the hope that they will help us be more efficient and get more done. But, it never seems like we can get everything done that we need to do.
That brings me to Lent. Each year the church invites us to enter into this holy season. Though there are numerous ways to describe the purpose of Lent, one reason is to let our souls catch up to our bodies.
One of the themes of Lent is conversion. This conversion involves a turning away from sin – metanoia as well as a turning toward God – epistrophe. In particular, we Christians want to dispose our lives to be more like that of Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God.
It was only two months ago that the whole church celebrated the mystery of this incarnation, God in Jesus becoming one like us in all things but sin. Jesus not only reveals God to us, but shows us the way to be holy, to imitate him.
This conversion happens I think only when we slow down enough to let our souls catch up with our bodies. I would like to highlight five characteristics of human life that give us an insight into how to let ourselves enter into conversion.
First, we are finite, bodily creatures. This body provides the vehicle that is the means for our souls to get around. Though we often fail to take care of our bodies well – we might eat too much, drink too much, fail to get enough sleep, or engage in risky behaviors – our bodies have a remarkable resilience for a rather long time. The dietary practices of Lent – also know as fasting and abstinence – are one way to remind us that we need to be attentive to our bodies and to be moderate in our activities.
Second, we are relational creatures. It is stating the obvious to say that we are born in relation to others. But it seems to me we take for granted the profound significance of this insight. Our faces are oriented to the other. Our vision is always outward, not inward. We only see our own faces in a mirror. Because we are relational creatures we are made in the image of God who is by nature triune.
Third, we are intelligent creatures. This intelligence is not only the great gift of being able to reason. It also includes an ability to be self-reflective. We are creatures who know that we know; we are self-conscious knowers. We can abstract from the limitations of our finite lives to remember the past, reflect on our actions and intend to move in a good way toward the future.
Fourth, we are creatures capable of self-transcendence. This does not mean that we can overcome our bodilyness. However, we can imagine beyond the finite limits of our time and space. We can pose questions that go beyond what we currently know toward the infinite. It ultimately raises the question of whether or not there is an Infinite One at the end of our questioning.
Fifth, we are hopeful creatures. Something inside us prods us to consider that, as good as life is, there is something more. The promise of this “more” is the core of our hope.
Christians desire to dispose their own lives to that of Jesus, to journey with him to and through the Paschal Mystery. The season of Lent offers us the opportunity to attend to this discipleship with all members of the Christian community. If we let our bodies slow down enough, we might just let our souls catch up.