We can often overlook a meaning for Lent that is an invitation — an invitation to “return,” to be reconciled with God, with each other and with ourselves. Lent calls us to return to our hearts, to see what’s there, and act from what we see. Lent is a season of the heart.
The scriptures, both the Hebrew Prophets and the New Testament texts, are our guides for the journey of Lent. They make a powerful point, and one that our culture often for- gets. It is the heart that matters. What is in our heart deeply influences our vision, our hearing, our behavior.
Through the symbol of ashes we received, we are asked to remember that we are of the earth, created by another, and will not walk the earth forever. We are asked to repent; to look at ourselves, to recognize our separation from our God, and to return to the one who has created us. Repentance, remembering, returning to God—all of these begin in our hearts. None of these is an intellectual exercise. If Lent is a time to return to our hearts and find comfort there, and solace and strength, then we can grow within. And what if Lent is a time to return to our souls and find our calling and our source of life? Is that what happened for Jesus when he was in a desert for 40 days? Can that happen for us? I believe so.
The prophet Joel cries: “Even now, says the Lord, 'Return to me with your whole heart, With fasting and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, And return to the Lord your God'" . Why should we take the risk to do this? Joel answers: “For gracious and merciful is God, Slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” (Joel 2: 12-13) Lent need not be a drab time. Lent can be a time of finding ourselves and finding true meaning in our own hearts, so we can share the love that God planted there with others.