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Last Sunday, those of us embarking on a Lenten book study together gathered at Waves Coffee Shop.

Seated around a table, we reflected on our previous experiences of Lent, and what the season has meant to us over the course of our lives. Highlights for some included, for example, the meaningful interfaith opportunity to fast alongside Muslim work colleagues, who were themselves undertaking the daytime fasting of the Ramadan season. Then there were our lowlights - the copious number of Lenten books or devotionals left uncompleted; the confusion around what to "give up for Lent," and, more to the point, why. Do we give up sweets as a spiritual exercise, or because we want to fit into our favourite jeans by Easter? As one of us said with a sigh, "Well, maybe one year I’ll get Lent right."

Does that resonate with you? I suspect this feeling of self-recrimination is almost universal amongst those of us who lives are shaped by the church calendar.  We reproach ourselves for failing to get Lent "right," usually without even having a clear idea of what "right" looks like.

Our group did agree that Lent is, at its best, about creating space for God to work in our hearts. And I believe that God welcomes us just as we are; while there are many things we can and should truly repent of, doing Lent "wrong" is probably not one of them.

I will always remember with great fondness visiting, as a young mother, my grandmother Etta in White Rock. Etta would buzz us into her apartment building, then stand waiting in the fourth floor corridor beside her open door. As we emerged from the elevator and made our way down the hallway toward her, in a roar of toddlers and strollers and picnic baskets, she would invariably say "WELL, isn’t this nice!" I remember thinking at the time what a very fine greeting that was - all welcome and pleasure, with no undertone, conscious or otherwise, of "what took you so long - I haven’t seen you in AGES!"

And so I like to think of God standing there beside the open door that is Lent, saying "Well, isn’t this nice," and welcoming us in to visit, warts and all, any absences forgotten.

Whether you’re sitting down with your grandmother, or with God, however, that happily-anticipated visit can get interrupted with a thousand pings from the outside world - texts pinging on your cell phone, worries or work thoughts pinging in your head, or any external or internal ping, really, that feeds our addiction to stimulation and distraction. So I think of Lent as a way of crafting a firm "Do not disturb" sign that protects our visit with God, just as we, when we are being properly attentive, turn off our phone when we are visiting with our grandmother, or anyone else.

As we know from gospel accounts, Jesus was certainly known to put up his Do Not Disturb sign and seek time alone with God, even, or perhaps especially, amongst the demanding crowds. Prior to this, though, just following his baptism, Jesus underwent a far more intense period of self-denial and testing in the desert. This spirit-led desert experience was meant to test Jesus’ strength and faith before he embarked on the public ministry that would require plenty of both.

While Mark doesn’t go into detail about the form of the temptations laid before Jesus, Luke and Matthew tell us that toward the end of the 40 days, when Jesus was at his lowest ebb, Satan tempts him with offers of food and earthly power. Jesus instead continues to trust in the deeper nourishment that comes only from God.

So I wonder if Lent can be for us a testing ground in which we learn to recognize what we reach for when we are at our most depleted? Do we tend to accept Satan’s band-aid "fixes" or do we persevere in our search for God’s true health and healing?

Along with the book study, I have made two Lenten commitments this year. Ironically, perhaps, one is to refrain from buying any books until Easter. The other is to stop picking up my phone first thing in the morning and getting immediately caught up in news headlines, emails, Facebook posts or even my favourite New York Times word games.

I hope this discipline will illustrate for me just how addicted I, like many others, have become to filling every spare moment with the little adrenalin hits of humour, outrage, or interest that are supplied on a literally never-ending basis on social media. And sure, the posts I generally get on my newsfeed have much to commend them - they are often thought-provoking, informative, or spirit lightening. But they effectively and relentlessly crowd out any quiet space in which I might follow my own deeper imaginings, let alone hope to hear the word of God.

So I decided to stop picking up my phone first thing in the morning a few days before Lent. I thought I should approach this new practice gradually, so the shock of Ash Wednesday didn’t kill me outright. And what I am finding so far is both predictable and unpredictable. As predicted, I am enjoying filling my early morning with more focussed reading, and more prayers and musings of my own. I didn’t predict, though, that I would be sleeping longer and more soundly, as my mind and body get used to the thought that they will not be dosed with a barrage of adrenalin-spiking 'pings' upon first opening my eyes.

While we think about Lent in terms of a "desert," it is, of course, often the case that Lent can take us from a desert, a spiritual desert, into a place where our true hungers can be met. As I have shared with some of you, these past number of weeks have required me to undertake a steady stream of things that are really not my strong suit. Things like choosing paint colours and fixing wifi issues; filling in multiple pages of home insurance questionnaires about the age of our plumbing and the last time our chimney was cleaned; completing in-depth government paperwork to do with our refugee sponsorship; jumping through a million hoops just to cancel my 100-year-old godmother’s tenancy insurance, and the list goes on … in short, it’s been a perfect storm of all those things I most like to avoid, and it isn’t even tax season yet.

So for a time I was feeling overwhelmed in a way I usually do not, and in this spiritual desert I noticed some of the things I reached for to provide a "quick fix." Things like complaining. Like nursing a feeling of aggrieved self-righteousness, which I noticed myself doing with some amusement, but allowed myself to indulge in just the same. Like escapist Facebook scrolling. Like a glass of wine or an unhealthy snack. Like a TV show I wasn’t even enjoying. It all added up to junk food for mind, body and spirit. Needless to say, the times I remembered to turn instead to prayer were more strengthening on every level.

In today’s gospel, Jesus withdrew from the world to be tested. Most of us find our temptations in the world. And sometimes we live in deserts not of our own choice or making; deserts created by poverty, war or abuse. For many, the thought of being able to curate a Lenten experience with book studies and somewhat superficial deprivations is a luxury beyond reach.

But whether we walk through Lent carrying too much or too little, whether our temptations come from drowning in too many distractions or from places of emptiness we long to have filled, the question remains: when the chips are down, when we are feeling most depleted, do we reach for God or do we say 'yes' to the Devil’s band-aid fixes? Perhaps that is a question you would like to put in your pack for the Lenten journey ahead.

Satan gets a lot of attention in Jesus’s desert story. And so it is easy to overlook the other players in the drama - the angels who waited upon Jesus, and attended to him. We don’t know exactly what that means, or what that might have looked like - just as in our own lives we are often not aware of all the forces working for our good; how the happy outcomes we experience are influenced along the way by the kind intervention of individuals, prayers, or powers beyond our understanding.

We can be assured, however, that as we learn again and again to reach out for God, God is already reaching out for us. And God will use all means of doing so - including people like you and me, who are called to be ministering angels to each other.

So in this holy Lent, as we each do what we need to do to say a louder YES to God, let’s remember that we are on this journey together, and that it is often through us that people hear the word or get the strength to keep carrying their burdens. As we think about our community here at St. Clement’s then, and about Christians around the globe, let us close with this prayer for the season ahead.

God, we thank you that you call us on desert mountaintops, in crowded Skytrains, in classrooms, in traffic jams, in coffee shops and offices, in times of joyful plenty and in the midst of sadness or want. In this time of Lent, as we seek to draw ever closer to you, may we be willing angels helping others on their journey as well. In every season of the year, in time and out of time, help us trust that you welcome each of us just as we are, saying to us from your wide open door:

"Well, isn’t this nice!"