The season of lent, like advent, is an opportunity to assess the state of our soul and to prepare for a fresh encounter with the divine. In his classic “Paradise”, Dante uses the image a holy fire and a white rose to inspire his readers toward the quest for a union and re-union with God, “But already my will and desire were being turned like a wheel all at one speed, by the love which moves the sun and others stars…The love that calms the heavens always welcomes into itself such a salutation to make the candle ready for the flame. “ Our nature and destiny is to be afire in Divine love. As Plato said, “We are fired into this life with a madness that comes from the gods.” The Apostle Paul affirmed that it is only as we live, deeply, in and out of that divine love that we experience what Jesus called “abundant” life; ‘In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) The season of Lent, then, is an opportunity to “prepare the candle for the flame.” To consider and cultivate our inner lives and make them ready to receive the light and fire of God’s love and grace.
All of this is lofty and esoteric stuff can seem out of reach for us, mere mortals, plagued by the broken-ness and limitations of the human condition. In our weaker moments, we lie, cheat and steal. We make mistakes and live with the guilt and regrets that are part and parcel of a less than perfect human existence. Our church sanctuary is filled with various candles. Some are real candles and some are battery operated. Someone recently tried to light an electric candle and melted the plastic wick! Talk about preparing the candle for the flame, half the time, despite our best intentions, we don’t even know which end of the candle is up (or real). The fact is that we all make mistakes, we sometimes only cripple along but usually we do the best we can. Approaching Easter also allows for opportunities to start over, to find forgiveness and to thrust ourselves again on God’s limitless mercy which defines the Gospel message.
We must never lose sight of this high and lofty vision of the spiritual life. Again, as Paul said, we must forever strive for the “upward calling in Christ Jesus.” Our deepening union with God is not only the preferable but the possible option for anyone who takes seriously their spiritual pilgrimage. For years, I have been a fan of another Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross the Spanish Carmelite priest who, like Dante, cast his vision of the Christian life in terms of a direct, experiential encounter with God. He once said: “To love is to be transformed into what we love, therefore, to love God is to be transformed into God.” For most of us, being transformed into God, seems unimaginable when we consider how limited and temporary human life really is. We are not all mystics and certainly we are not all saints. We may want to “fly like eagles” as Isaiah said, but how can we fly like eagles when we live and work with “turkeys.” Not to worry, our job is only to “ready the candle” and to cultivate the soil of our hearts in order to prepare for the movement of the spirit in our lives. That is our part and the rest is God’s part—-and thank God for that!