Now is about the time when I ask myself, why does Lent have to be so long? Over six weeks must pass before we complete our observance of Lent. In the opening days, Lent can appear very daunting to me. I’m nervous that I will fail in the promises that I have just recently made. When the semester gets busy, will I be able to manage the small amount of prayer I’m adding to my life? When I have a craving for food, will I be able to abstain from what I’ve promised I would? I hate failing, and the prospect of keeping with my practices for over six weeks discourages me.
Looking for guidance, today I will to turn to an expert on the spiritual life, St. Teresa of Avila. This saintly woman offers a beautiful metaphor for what our Lenten observance might look like. In The Book of Her Life, St. Teresa compares our growth in prayer to the act of watering a garden. She says that God is the head gardener who uproots the weeds in our garden (in other words, our soul) and plants good seed. We are called to water these seeds such that they may grow with God’s grace. St. Teresa explains that there are four ways we can water the garden. We can “draw water from a well (which is for us a lot of work).” Or we can gain water by using a “water wheel and aqueducts.” This simple machine will save us much work in watering the garden. Thirdly, the water may enter by way of a stream. This way is yet easier and requires even less work of us. Finally, the garden may be watered by rain from the skies.
St. Teresa explains, “Beginners in prayer, we can say, are those who draw water from the well.” The beginner must put forth much effort to maintain the garden. The action requires devoted attention and ceaseless work. However, the more practiced we are at prayer the easier we find the work of cultivating the garden of our soul. Finally, when we are near complete union with God, we have only to receive of God’s goodness passively. St. Teresa uses the metaphor to describe the life of prayer and the stages that we must go through in growing in prayer. I think that this metaphor can also enlighten our understanding of the Lenten pilgrimage ahead of us. While one season of Lent is a much smaller scope than a lifetime of prayer, I think that, as Lent progresses, we will find that our fasts and new practices will come with greater ease. Let this be our encouragement to work hard during this Lenten season. As time goes on and as we stay true to our efforts, we will find that God provides us with the grace that strengthens us and draws us closer to Him.
Mr. James Henke was a student at the University of Notre Dame for two years before transferring into the Old College Undergraduate Seminary Program. He and his fellow seminarians regularly lend their news and views to the Spes Unica Blog. James is originally from Greenwood, Indiana.