Dear Friends,

One of the images for the season of Lent is wilderness. It’s easy to see why. According to the Gospels, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness after his baptism by John in the Jordan River. The people of Israel spent forty years in the wilderness after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Although we, who live in North America, often think of wilderness areas as being heavily forested, the wildernesses of the Middle East are deserts – dry, desolate places with little to sustain life.

Many years ago, a priest friend gave me a book of sermons by H.A. Williams entitled The True Wilderness. The title comes from one of the sermons – the one Williams preached on Ash Wednesday in the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge. Here’s how he began the sermon: “It is a pity that we think of Lent as a time to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way. And it’s more than a pity, it’s a tragic disaster, that we also think of it as a time to indulge in the secret and destructive pleasure of doing a good orthodox grovel to a pseudo-Lord, the pharisee in each of us we call God and who despises the rest of what we are.”

Ouch! I remember thinking, is this what I’ve been doing all these years I’ve been giving things up – like alcohol or chocolate – for Lent? Was I just making myself “uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way”?

H.A. Williams went on to say that what Lent should be about is entering the true wilderness that’s inside each of us – a wilderness that isn’t so much about our wickedness (although some people are indeed wicked) but is rather about how incapable we are of establishing communion with each other and, therefore, how alone and isolated we are.

This past Christmas Eve, USA Today published an article about how loneliness has become epidemic in the United States. Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General, gives this definition of loneliness: he says loneliness occurs when the connections a person needs in life are greater than the connections they have.

If loneliness is not your wilderness, you are blessed. If the connections you have are greater than the connections you need in life, give thanks. But if loneliness is your wilderness, Lent offers forty days to reestablish communion with others and with God.

Here are ways we offer “holy communion” – ways to connect – at Trinity during Lent: the 10 o’clock Sunday service (in-person or online), the Wednesday service of Holy Eucharist at noon or the three Wednesday evening offerings: Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm., supper with others at 6:15 pm, and the class I’m teaching at 7:00 pm about St. Mark’s account of Holy Week.

Celebrity doctor Daniel Amen recommends minimizing screen time while maximizing in-person interactions to combat loneliness. He especially recommends church. “So it’s back to church,” he says. “Go back to church. Get involved. Get involved with groups. We have to go back. And really, no better place to solve [loneliness] than the church.”

The good news is that the Biblical accounts about wilderness end with stories of new beginnings, of new life, of new connections. The season of Lent ends this way, too, on Easter morning . . . . But for now, we’re just getting started.


Stephen Applegate

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