What’s in your ark?
Whenever Jim and I are preparing for a trip, there are two things that are assumed: I will pack the suitcases and he will load them in the car. Now, this is not a male/female thing. Jim does not have to be in the same room with me or even at home when I pack his suitcase. He may ask if I remembered a certain book he wants to read or our phone chargers, but as far as seeing what goes into the suitcases, he trusts me to get the job done. I do not think I could do the same if the roles were reversed. I have to have that bit of control.
The same goes for loading the car. It is not the physical action of carrying the suitcases out, because I help with that sometimes. But Jim is better at fitting everything in and doing it in a way that nothing shifts or falls over or gets broken. For whatever reason, it is a system that has served us well for over thirty years.
In today’s Mass reading, from the book of Genesis, God is instructing Noah on how to load the ark.
Then the LORD said to Noah:
“Go into the ark, you and all your household,
for you alone in this age have I found to be truly just.
Of every clean animal, take with you seven pairs,
a male and its mate;
and of the unclean animals, one pair,
a male and its mate;
likewise, of every clean bird of the air, seven pairs,
a male and a female,
and of all the unclean birds, one pair,
a male and a female.
Thus you will keep their issue alive over all the earth.
Seven days from now I will bring rain down on the earth
for forty days and forty nights,
and so I will wipe out from the surface of the earth
every moving creature that I have made.”
Noah did just as the LORD had commanded him.
When I read that scripture, I usually focus on the fact that Noah had to find a niche for each pair of animals. It evokes my senses: the beauty of the animal, the overwhelming smell, the noise deafening. But in my mind, I still see it as I did as a child, the animals calmly walking up the plank, some already loaded with heads sticking out the windows.
As I listened to today’s reading, however, it was something else that stood out. Those forty days and forty nights. Of course, since Lent begins tomorrow, it makes perfect sense that this would be one of the readings. Jesus began his ministry by fasting for forty days in the desert. And the number forty comes to us time and time again in the scriptures: the Israelites wandered for forty years, Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights, Goliath taunted Saul’s army for 40 days before David arrived to slay him. There are others but one that stood out to me was in the book of Jonah, from chapter 3:
Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming,
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
The Ninevites believed God.
A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Just as Jesus began his ministry with fasting and the Ninevites began their repentance with fasting, we too are called to fast on Ash Wednesday, as part of our preparation for Lent.
Why fast? To me, it’s like getting ready for a trip. Now obviously I can’t take everything in my house when I go, but only the essentials. If I am leaving for a week, I can’t just pack the same things I would if I were just going overnight. Lent is a time to get back to the essentials. For me, as an Oblate, I look daily to St. Benedict’s Rule to help guide me. But even with that, there are those things that creep back in; too much television or games on my phone, foods that aren’t healthy for me or being lazy about exercise. Everyone’s list is different of course. These are just a few of mine. But the point is, it’s a time to “spring clean” not just physically, but spiritually. I might choose to “leave” television, but “pack” a few extra Masses each week.
So, as we approach Lent this year, I encourage everyone to think about those things you want to take with you for the next forty days and those you want to leave behind. And don’t worry about what anyone else is taking…everyone’s journey is different. Think about it. Pray about it. And allow God’s blessings to go on the journey with you.
Fasting is directed to two things: the deletion of sin and the raising of the mind to heavenly things. St Thomas Aquinas