I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. –Jeremiah 31:33
Several years ago my family and I spent four months on a sabbatical in a new part of the country. It was memorable. For one thing, this was the first time we had lived in a building that was the unique design of an internationally known architect. We also met interesting new people. One family we got to know had kids who matched up with our own. Over hand-made pizza one evening I was surprised to learn that they, little kids included, practiced elements of the Ignatian spiritual tradition. Ignatius was Christian teacher and pastor, a Spaniard from the sixteenth-century.
During Lent we tend to focus on things that might be removed from our lives. We often think of the Lenten call to repentance in this negative light. So when we read passages like Jeremiah 31:33, which looks prophetically to a time when God’s people will have the divine law written on the hearts, we tend to think of this in the same way. We assume that if God is going to direct us through our inner life it will come through the form of conviction about something we are doing wrong. This has value, but it also has significant limitations. First, the individual conscience is a bit suspect. It’s a formed thing, not an infallible guide. Second, and more simply, this negative view is plainly discouraging.
What the family explained was that at the end of each day they tried to reflect back over the day and identify both consolations and desolations. I remember being impressed that a three year old could even say those words. The point of this exercise is to grow in awareness of God’s presence and to grow in awareness that everyday things are important and valuable. It deepens our experience of life. I can’t remember the words the kids used to describe “desolations,” but Ignatius himself describes them as “darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit . . . restlessness arising from disturbances and temptations.” At these times we are “slothfull, tepid, sad.” We feel separated from our Creator. Consolations, on the other hand, are those parts of our lives that increase our “faith, hope and love and all interior joy.” These times of joy point us toward what is good and peacable.
That reference to joy is important. If Lent is a time for reflecting on our lives, then I can’t help but think that we do ourselves a disservice by only thinking in negative terms. If, in some deep way, God’s intention for us is written on our hearts, then surely joy helps us discern it. Maybe, then, this season is a time for taking up something new or expanding something old—doubling down on those things that bring us joy, give us hope, increase our faith and energize our love.