Lenten Visions of Love

Over President’s Day weekend, the novices ventured forth on our first overnight outing since August. We headed to the Portiuncula Center for Prayer, which neighbors the motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart near Chicago. Their fifty-acre property, known as St. Francis Woods, has hermitages for private retreats. When we arrived on Friday, over a foot of snow covered the grounds, and more fell that night as temperatures plunged into the negative degrees.

Lake Michigan in January, when temperatures began to drop in Chicago


Undeterred by the deep freeze, I trekked down to the creek Saturday morning, then spent the afternoon ensconced in my hermitage. The windows faced west toward the woods, so the sun came into view as the hours passed. Shining through tree branches, the light seemed to gain strength as the sun lowered toward the horizon. 


Curled under a blanket with apple cider, I read Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue and pondered her image of the Son of God as a bridge. God “made a bridge of the Word” so that humanity might share in the good for which God created us. God reveals to Catherine the Truth “that I created humankind in my image and likeness so that they might have eternal life, sharing in my being and enjoying my supreme eternal tenderness and goodness.”[1]Human beings are destined to share in God’s own being, a Trinitarian being-in-relationship. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, communicates that gift of divine life to us by “joining the earth of your humanity with the greatness of the Godhead.” We humans, made from clay, enjoy union with God through Christ, the “bridge [who] stretches from heaven to earth.”


What beautiful and compelling images Catherine offers us! As I sat reading, the lightest of snow began to fall. Like frozen mist, ice droplets hung in the air, shot through with rays of sun. It was as if I could see particles of light shimmering through space, something I had never been able to see before. Dazzled, I closed my eyes against the glory of the light. 

Icicles covered the trees along the lakefront when the deep freeze set in

That prayer experience comes to mind this week as the church prepares for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. We read in John’s Gospel the story of the Man Born Blind. After his encounter with Jesus, the Man Born Blind comes to see with eyes of faith. His eyes are opened to belief in Jesus, “the light of the world,” who has come from God to reveal who God is: the source of light and life.


Like the Man Born Blind’s journey of faith, my time at the CDN has led me newly to encounter God-with-us in the mystery of the Incarnation. Going deeper into cosmology and eco-spirituality has opened my eyes to God’s glory made manifest in the world around me. This Lenten season, I want to gaze contemplatively at the unfolding universe and see that all Creation reveals God’s immanent presence, creating and sustaining life. As Catherine of Siena came to see, God’s Incarnate Word unites Earth, humanity, and divinity. God dwells within and around us, like light shimmering in the open air. My wintry vision at the hermitage inspired me to write this poem on the sacrament of Creation:


            Christ Self within me, life flares forth.

            Love pulses through the universe—attracting force,

heartbeat divine—drawing all things to God.

            May I reverence Christ’s immanent Light

                        in each one I meet,

in the world around me.

            Christ kneaded divinity into flesh and clay

                        like yeast in a loaf of bread.

            The heat of divine Love binds us

                        in a new Creation.


May your eyes behold new visions during this Lenten journey.

This snow creature welcomed us home during the winter months

[1] Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke. The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 58-59.