By Steven Norris

     This week marks the beginning of the Lenten season. For the next six weeks, many Christians will enter a season of repentance and reflection as they prepare for Easter. Traditionally, this season is marked by a focus on conversion and the disciplines of fasting, prayer, and sacrificial giving.

     At the very heart of the Lenten journey is the hope of transformation. Most of us recognize quite well that the world is not as it should be. We hope that the world may be converted — shifted from the ways of greed, violence, domination, oppression, hatred, and division to better reflect the rule and reign of God and Christ as king.

     E. Stanley Jones, one of the best-known missionaries and spiritual writers of the twentieth century, once wrote: “Conversion is a gift and an achievement. It is the act of a moment and the work of a lifetime. You cannot attain salvation by disciplines. It is the gift of God.”

     In biblical Greek, the experience of conversion is captured in the word is metanoia, which refers to a change of mind and heart. The hope is that this change of mind and heart will manifest in a change of form or appearance. Biologists call it metamorphosis — the change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Many of us know firsthand the anticipation of watching a caterpillar turn into a chrysalis and then burst forth into a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

     Father Anthony De Mello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man. “I was a revolutionary when I was young, and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change the world.’

     “As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’

     “Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ’Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.”

     I might tweak that prayer even further: “Lord, give me the grace to allow your Spirit to change me. Let me be moldable in your hands.”

     For the next forty days, we join Jesus in the wilderness, where he was led following his baptism. In the crucible of temptation, he confronted the question of what kind of Messiah he was going to be and whether he would give in to the temptation of selfishness, spectacle, and political power or follow the path of sacrifice.

     Just as Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, I pray that we might hear the same invitation beckoning each of us toward conversion — to love God with everything that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves.