A Lenten Table: A Desert...and an Ocean

"Quietude, which some men can not abide because it reveals their inward poverty, is as a palace of cedar to the wise, for along its hallowed courts, the King in His beauty deigns to walk"-- Charles Spurgeon

Unfortunately you can't see much of this lovely 17th century work of Robert Campin's till its pressed to get a close up... but once you do that its pretty breathtaking. Its one I've always been drawn to but have never seen in full (only the middle)-- that is until tonight when the image of St Joseph there (i'd seen a close up of this) led to tracking down its origin in the full version above. It feels like a pretty precious co-in-see-dance because it has me thinking of something that's been building awhile now...

The image many have of Lent is our spending 40 days and nights in the desert. But not many feminine women that I know thrive in a desert, or from the harsh asceticism it can symbolize for that matter. That really does feel to be more of the heroic-male domain, to me anyway it does. I suspect a woman's journey through the Lenten 40 days might be a subtly different one, as men and women are not just "the same". I picture a woman's time in the "desert of Lent" as more a time in the ocean of Lent (or the waters of snow even)--which is just as quieting and ordering and cleansing and preparatory as the desert but in a way that feels so much more suited to the female soul--and I see it in Mary in this image.

Christ did indeed go to the desert for 40 days to prepare for his mission. And i feel that means something. Mary however did not, and I feel that means something too. Though perhaps her surrroundings may not have been as opulent as shown here, I picture Mary's preparation for her own mission as Mother of God as much like in this image--this inner softness and quiet and order, this humble and sacred peace--be it as she studies or as she bakes bread or lights the Shabbas candles (she was Jewish after all). Far from the rugged spartanness of the desert, I imagine her preparation was not in preparing to be a hero but rather a heroine. Not in denying the body and steeling one's focus but rather in giving and recieving nurture and developing a sense of calm and order and peace yet softness and openness of heart. And so i feel a kind of subtle but important difference there, and think her daughters here have reason to take note.

And I notice in this image above, an image I feel may have tapped into something archetypal, that she is solitary in the sense of peacefulness and yet at the same time in another sense not alone at all-- she is, like Adam's rib, surrounded by a protective maleness at every turn... by an angel, by clergy, by Joseph, by...headship. A woman's 40 days I suspect is not the heroic sacrificing preparation in the desert of preparing to be a rescuer, but rather the heart softening preparation by the ocean of preparing to be a nurturer. Rescuing and nurturing overlap, no doubt. Both need a special retreat and growth of some kind to prepare for things as well. But there is still something subtly and powerfully distinct there i feel.

No more words really, its just that this image has really been on my heart tonight. I keep hearing the phrase "not a desert but an ocean". I have no idea what it means for how I might actually be keeping Lent though... so just sharing as i go, and praying....

(Image from

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