Saturday, March 7, 2009


The medieval pilgrim's road was fraught with problems and perils: sudden mountain storms, highway bandits, the crossfire of warring armies, not to mention the withering heat of summer or the normal hardships of travel in those days. The problems were part of the pilgrimage, the price you paid for the privilege. So a pilgrim could not afford to be naïve, but rather had to be prepared for the dangers and discouragements that could delay or even put an end to the pilgrimage.

As we travel our Lenten journey, we, like those intrepid pilgrims on the road to Compostela, should expect to meet all sorts of difficulties and temptations on the way.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has various metaphors for this resistance, whether internal or external, that we encounter whenever we try to respond to God's call to conversion of heart. Here are just a few of those images:
Trials in the Desert. During their forty years in the wilderness God sends the Israelites various hardships such as thirst, hunger or marauding tribes to test their faith and their trust in Yahweh. Unfortunately, the People of God usually fail the test and give in to the temptations.
The "sinful Adam" in us. Saint Paul complains "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me" (Rom. 7:15,17).
Holy Combat. In the language of the early monastic tradition, the spiritual life is a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and the battleground is the human heart. The desert fathers and mothers spoke all the time of the demons who constantly try to discourage us by disrupting any good work we begin.
Misdirected Love. Saint Augustine teaches that our one basic desire is for God; but our passions get disordered and we begin to pursue other lesser loves, created ones, instead of God.
"The False Self." Thomas Merton uses this image to describe the resistance we experience in ourselves when we try to respond freely and authentically to God's call to conversion; the "false self" tries to take over and push us toward selfish, inauthentic behavior.

All of these metaphors describe the same phenomenon: there is something in us that resists the movement toward mature, self-giving love. They also teach, implicitly or explicitly, that we ourselves are powerless against these forces, and that we need God's help to overcome them.

When I'm doing a little fasting in Lent a little voice inside me complains, "I'm hungry! I want a cookie!" And when I'm spending some extra time in prayer, the same voice whines, "I worked hard today, so I want to relax and watch television or read a spy novel!" I think of this resistance I experience inside me as the voice of my "spoiled two year-old" raising a ruckus or throwing a tantrum. I've gotten used to him over the years, but I have to admit that his persistent pestering can wear me down at times. Woops! I just reached for the cookie jar!

The meditations for Week Two in Pilgrim Road all have to do with the "holy combat" that we need to engage in if we want to achieve our spiritual goals. We need to remember, though, that what was true of the Israelites fighting Amalek in the wilderness (Ex. 17: 8-13) is also true of us: it is the Lord who is fighting our battles for us; so we need to pray constantly, asking the Lord to help us with "mighty hand and outstretched arm" during Lent. We should pray for one another as well. (I pray for each of you every day, and could certainly use your prayers!)

What about you? Have you ever had to deal with your own inner two year old during Lent? Do you see this little person as a normal part of the Lenten experience or just a nuisance and a distraction? Or maybe you have an entirely different way of thinking about the challenges of the Lenten journey.


  1. This two year old has bothered me a lot lately when I tried to do something good or has caused me to criticize people and not to accept them when I wanted to "love my neighbor".

    Thanks for this insight. It helps and I know that only God can do it, not me.

  2. I've found the image of the inner two-year old very revealing. For example, how does one deal with a child in her or his terrible twos? Well, you don't let the little one throw you into turmoil, but you just handle the situatiion calmly without making a big deal of it. You try to be patient with the childish behavior rather than trying to "fix" the two year-old on the spot. You accept the fact that this needy child is there and is right now making your life difficult. And, yes, I'm sure that many parents must hand things over to God in prayer when they realize that they really don't quite know what to do with this little person!

    March 23, 2009 7:57 PM