IN THE LENTEN WILDERNESS
(or, as the Archdeacon would have it, Giving up Ottawa for Lent)
By Maj the Rev. Lisa Pacarynuk
I looked out of the cockpit window of the C-17 and saw nothing but blue and brown. It was breathtaking. We were somewhere over Egypt, I was told, and beneath us was a vast expanse of mountains, desert, sea and sky. Blue and brown. I was trying in vain to recall those maps at the end of my Bible, suddenly not an image on paper anymore, but a real place, a real desert, a living and breathing place, far from snow and ice of Canada. Was I seeing where Moses walked?St. Augustine? Saints and followers of God throughout the ages? I couldn’t say for certain. All I knew was that I was on an adventure, a Lenten journey like none other I had experienced.
I left Canada at the end of January on a short deployment, a TAV, to replace the two chaplains deployed to OP ATTENTION in Afghanistan as they each took their holiday. I was slated to be there until the end of March, a period of time which would frame the 40 days of Lent nearly perfectly. I had never been to Afghanistan before, just heard the stories of the dust, the heat (and the cold), the danger, the brokenness and the hope. I was excited and afraid, armed with prayer and prayerbooks to minister to the troops in their workplaces and make sense of that wilderness journey given us every year to change our hearts and return to God.
I have spent my days with our dedicated and generous troops, and have been able to do a little work with the Afghan army and see how we are mentoring those of another culture and world-view. I burned last year’s palms in a fire pit in a corner of the camp, and celebrated Ash Wednesday with Christians of different denominations, in English and French, in a chapel in a camp surrounded by those who profess another faith. With a few other souls, I began that wilderness journey, accompanied, like Jesus, by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. I listen to the excitement and struggles of our soldiers passing through their own wilderness of loneliness and learning. The psalms of this Lent echo in my heart – psalm 91 from the 1st Sunday of Lent: “Under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day…Psalm 27 from the 2nd: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 63 from the 3rd: O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you/my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Suddenly, they are real, the real prayers of real believers walking through the wilderness, seeking courage and strength and walking towards the new life that comes from resurrection, new birth, and homecoming.
As I write this, Lent has reached its half-way point. I have changed camps, met new people and felt the growing heat of the impending Afghan springtime. The Holy Week journey of suffering and death are still ahead, with the promise of resurrection peeking in behind it. When the Easter season begins, I will be back in the Canadian springtime, through the wilderness into the season of new beginnings, grateful for the adventure and forever changed.