Meditation by Brother Alois

Lent: The Joy of Turning to God


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“Walking in the wilderness”, triptych by Brother Sylvain, Taizé

Lent first directs our thoughts to the image of the desert, the one in which Jesus spent forty days of solitude, or the one that God’s people crossed by walking for forty years.
Yet when these weeks before Easter returned, Brother Roger liked to recall that it was not a time for austerity or sorrow, or a period to cultivate guilt, but rather a season to sing the joy of forgiveness. He saw Lent as forty days to prepare to rediscover little springtimes in our lives.

At the beginning of the Gospel of St. Matthew, when John the Baptist proclaims “Repent!” he means: “Turn to God!” Yes, during Lent, we wish to look towards God in order to receive forgiveness. Christ has conquered evil and his constant forgiveness allows us to renew an inner life. We are invited to a conversion: not to turn towards ourselves in introspection or individual perfectionism, but to seek communion with God and also communion with others.

Turning to God! It is true that in the Western world, it has become difficult for some people to believe in God. They see his existence as a limitation on their freedom. They think they must struggle alone to build their lives. That God walks alongside them seems inconceivable.

A year ago I visited our brothers who have been living in Korea for thirty years. On the way, another brother and I had youth meetings in several Asian countries. What struck me in Asia is that prayer seems natural. People belonging to different religions pray spontaneously in an attitude of respect, even adoration.

Of course, in those societies there are no fewer tensions or manifestations of violence than in the West. But a sense of interiority is perhaps more accessible, a respect for the miracle of life, for creation, a focus on mystery, on an afterlife.

How can we renew our interior life by discovering and rediscovering a personal relationship with God? In all of us there is a thirst for the infinite. God created us with this desire for an absolute. We must let this aspiration live in us!

Among the songs of Taizé, there is one that can sustain this longing. The lyrics are by a Spanish poet, Luis Rosales, who was inspired by St. John of the Cross: "We walk by night and, in order to find the wellspring, only our thirst illuminates us." For some, the Lenten season is a time of fasting. Not that asceticism has value in itself, but in each of us there is a longing deeper than superficial longings, a more essential thirst, and this thirst can shed light on our path.

If we sometimes walk at night, or if we seem to be crossing a desert, this is not to follow an ideal; we follow a person, Christ. We are not alone; he goes before us. Following him involves an inner struggle, with decisions to be taken, the faithfulness of an entire lifetime. In this struggle we do not rely on our own strength, but we surrender ourselves to his presence. The path is not laid out in advance; it also means being open to surprises, creating with the unexpected.

And God does not tire himself out in setting out on the road with us once again. We can believe that communion with him is possible and never get tired either of always having to resume the struggle. We do not persevere in order to come before God in the best light possible. No, we agree to move ahead like poor people of the Gospel who put their trust in God’s mercy.

Lent is a season that invites us to share. It leads us to sense that there is no spiritual growth without consenting to give something up, and to do so for love. Once when he was in the wilderness, Jesus, moved by compassion for those who had followed him, multiplied five loaves and two fishes to feed everyone. What signs of sharing can we accomplish in our turn?

The Gospel encourages simplicity of life. It calls us to bring our own desires under control in order to succeed in setting limits, not by constraint but by choice. This call is becoming very relevant today, not just on a personal level but in the life of societies. Freely chosen simplicity enables those who are privileged to resist the race to acquire what is superfluous and contributes to the struggle against the poverty imposed on those who are deprived.

During this time of Lent, let us dare to review our lifestyle, not to make those who would do less feel guilty, but for the sake of solidarity with the deprived. The gospel encourages us to share freely while setting everything in the simple beauty of creation.

The daily newspaper "La Croix" asked Brother Alois to write a meditation for the great Christian feasts during the year 2008-2009.