It’s easy to think of deserts when we look at Lent. The Gospels of Lent clearly place Jesus in the midst of the dry desert, thwarting temptation, beating off wild beasts with a stick, and surrounded by ministering angels. A desert is a dry, weary land without waters of baptism, and is the space we must journey through as we hungrily eye the glory of the Risen Lord on Easter morning.
Yet, how many of us, in our rainy, if not sopping wet, Middle West, can easily picture a “desert” in our mind’s eye? When is the last time any of us have physically walked through a desert? Isn’t our experience of sand chiefly that which we see spread on streets when it snows?
While having a healthy sacramental imagination which makes great use of the “desert” image is certainly a good thing, I have begun to wonder what inculturation might have to teach us about a Mid-western “desert” of Lent. What deserts do Hoosiers or Buckeyes or Michiganders traverse daily? And, yes, happily, my fair city has supplied me with a powerful new image for Lent: the pothole.
Now, if you live in a city lucky enough to have thwarted the vicious fluctuations in temperature which have ripped our roads apart, I understand you may have difficulty with this metaphor. So this image is for those of us who plot our commute based on chunks of loose asphalt, who strategically drive in the breakdown lane, and who regularly dodge gaping holes in the pavement wide enough to swallow several adult male raccoons.
Take your sacramental eye, and look at potholes as an invitation to draw us into our Lenten journey.
Potholes ask us to snap to attention—in our everyday life, we can become lax, lazy, and easily distracted by flashing phones, work-place dramas, or negative news cycles. Potholes demand more than a lackadaisical approach to driving: our mind and eye must be focused and taut, else we will, quite literally, fall into the pit. Does not Lent call us to strip bare of distractions and become more focused on the Lord?
Potholes invite us to avoid traps which will tear us (or our cars) apart—we can choose to drive on the same path again and again, and hit the unavoidable bump which jolts our heads and jams our vehicles. Or, we could chose a different path. Does not Lent call us to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel? Turn down a different road—avoid that pothole all together.
Potholes call us into greater community—how many of us have carefully followed the car in front of us, who clearly knows where danger lies? Does Lent not call us to unite together in Christian love? We learn from those who have gone before us, how better to reach our goals in the Christian life.
Potholes invite us to make the way easier for others—like the good citizen who dropped a construction cone in a hole in the road at the corner of our neighborhood to warn others not to fall into temptation (true story—don’t ask where the construction cone came from). Or, for example, when you hit a pothole so hard that your car begins to make a terrifying metal-scraping-metal squeal and you have to bring your baby to her sitter, get your husband to class, and deposit your car at the shop all in the same 28 minutes! Without the kindness of a friend, who helped us when we were in need by giving me a ride, we would not have succeeded in our journey and in reaching safety. Does not Lent call us to service, to charity toward our neighbor, thus drawing us all toward greater love of God?
So, the next time we’re driving, instead of simply complaining about the disastrous (or perhaps “post-apocalyptic” would be more appropriate) state of our pitted, potted roads, perhaps we can make a silent prayer of thanksgiving—thanking God for yet another way to draw us more directly through our Lenten journey, and trusting that, with God, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain brought low—even those on our city streets.