Departure, Encounter, and Return: A Lenten Meditation by Fran Salone-Pelletier

We’ve entered another Lenten season with the same fervor we offer each year—and the identical “falling from grace” that dogs our steps and threatens our sense of holiness. It happens even in the midst of our deepest desires for “successful sanctity”—the only words I can summon to describe the experience.

A friend of mine, who happens to be an Episcopal priest, invited his parishioners to consider the depth of their Lenten journey rather than concentrate on sacrifices that end with the return to a “life-as-usual” post–Lent period. His plea was for his parishioners, for all of us, to be ready to encounter God uniquely during this Lenten season. In his words, “Lent is a time set aside to do the work of facing our sins, of facing the shame, fear, and insecurities that prevent us from thriving and prevent us from inviting others to thrive with us. It is not a time for pointless sacrifice, spiritual masochism, or spiritual competition.”

Fr. Richard Rohr describes the Lenten pilgrimage in terms derived from the work of Joseph Campbell, particularly Campbell’s understanding of the hero’s journey as a kind of trinitarian voyage that each one of us undertakes. Lent is an engaging experience that takes us through the passageways of departure, encounter, and return. Our Lenten experience involves an ever-deepening understanding of those three positions.

This venture cannot be a superficial one. It cannot be solely a matter of following rules and regulations. If we enter it wholeheartedly, all three elements will be life-changing and transformational. Giving up will be more than sacrificing things we like to eat or drink or do. It will be more akin to releasing control and experiencing commitment. It will be the challenge to discover who we really are and to drop the many masks we wear so that our human deficiencies are not so recognizable or contagious.

Giving up will morph into giving in: giving in to the divinity dwelling within us and allowing its wonder to permeate the world in which we live. Let it warm the chill of misunderstanding into a deeper comprehension that we are all linked together as members of God’s family. All of us experience pain and suffering. All of us have been misunderstood. All of us have misunderstood others as well.

All of us have tried and failed. We have also succeeded and thought the success was all our own doing. We have given our gifts reluctantly and accepted them gracelessly.

Anger has dogged our steps. Patience has been short. Desires have eluded our grasp and dignity has been lost. Compassion did not always accompany us in our travels and encounters. We whisper our sinfulness and do not truly comprehend our sanctity.

Thus, we have Lent. We have the gift of time set aside to ponder who we really are. We have time to celebrate the wonder of who we are, and to celebrate the wonder that is all of us living and loving together.

We have this season as a gift to live more slowly and softly. It is truly a time to rediscover ourselves both as individuals and as members of the human race. It will demand a considered departure from life as usual. It will call for an encounter with newness, not novelty. It will mean a return not to what had been, but to an openness to being renewed, always renewed and always renewing.

It is a heroic journey, to be sure. Yet it is not impossible. It is challenging but not unchangeable. It calls for permission, endurance, confidence, hope, prayerfulness, and commitment—and not necessarily in that order.

Lent is the time we are given annually to assess and understand who we are, why we are, who God is, why God is, and to allow the divinity residing within us to grace the world with goodness. It is a time for love to banish hate and compassion to ease pain. It is a heroic journey well worth the effort, the challenge, the command to depart, encounter, and return, renewed and transformed.

In short, as my friend the priest concluded, “Lent is a time for spiritual battle, when we take on the challenging task of facing our Truth in the certainty that doing so will bring us to a place of freedom from fear, doubt, and shame, which turns control over to God.”

Fr. Rohr gives us a final word: “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That just might be the central message of how spiritual growth happens, yet nothing in us wants to believe it.”

There we have it. Look deeply into the Lenten experience and see what he saw, hear what he heard, feel what he felt . . . and get ready, because “here comes God.” 

I pray each day with great intention
thinking of personal issues
dreaming of hopes and promises
desiring change for the world
and, maybe, me
I think I am ready for God
then . . . oh my!
With scarce a moment of preparation
here comes God with plans
I had never anticipated
dreams I had not wondered
thoughts beyond the ordinary
and I am not ready 

I am not ready for the divinity
already within my broken spirit
I am not ready to suffer
the pains of becoming
the task of being perfected
of a transformation which
comes in the guise of sorrow
I am not ready
to hear the call of commitment
the invitation to grow
in wisdom, age, and grace
to love and be loved
to empower and be empowered

Aaah! Here comes God!

Fran Salone-Pelletier holds a master’s degree in theology. She is the author of a trilogy of scriptural meditations, Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives, from which this selection is taken. She is also a religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. Reach her at

Image: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash
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