Web Content Display Web Content Display

Web Content Display Web Content Display

Times 40


Written by: Br. Brian Poulin


March 6, 2021 – Saturday of the Second Week of Lent


We’re about one year into the COVID-19 pandemic that has had pretty much the whole world in various degrees of lockdown and social distancing since Lent 2020. Many of us have never before experienced such an extended period of time in which our entire reality is reshaped by heightened danger and unpleasant but necessary safety precautions. Yet some of us have, whether due to situations of inescapable abuse, entrenched violence, intractable poverty, or forced displacement. As far as enduring hardships go, this pandemic is more notable for the universal extent of its spread, rather than the length of its duration. Knock on wood


During Lent, we often focus on Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, but we can also remember the 40 years that the Israelites spend on their desert pilgrimage from enslavement in Egypt to an ancestral homeland they remembered only from legend. Let’s forget that numbers in the Bible are often symbolic and imagine that truly was a journey of four decades. At this point, we would only be 2.5% of the way through the trip.


How could we have resisted despair if we had known last April that pandemic-world would last not only through spring 2020 but also reach all the way into the next? Yet here we are. In spite of the loved ones we have lost and the various sufferings we have endured, we have somehow come this far by God’s grace. While we await the end of this affliction, I’m sure that many of us can recount numerous blessings we have received along the way. Some of us have deepened important relationships or learned new hobbies. Many of us have learned to do more with less and developed creative solutions that will better connect people even once we are again able to travel and gather freely. We have all had the chance to reevaluate our priorities. Even during this trial, God has blessed us.


One of my favorite passages of scripture is Deuteronomy 29: 4, in which Moses addresses the Israelites toward the end of their desert ordeal, reminding them that the whole time they were complaining about their own difficulties, God was caring for them in subtle but unmistakable ways: through 40 years of wandering, neither their shoes nor their clothing ever fell apart. No, they could not eat their preferred foods, but instead they were bestowed miraculous manna from heaven. When they were stripped of the ability to rely on their own resources, they learned to rely solely on God. In all of salvation history, was a nation ever so close to God as the Hebrew people were during that time in the desert?


It is clearer than ever to me that our Lenten practices—whatever they might be—are not meant to make us miserable. We should be about alleviating misery rather than adding to it. Suffering can only be justified when it is at the service of something greater. Even if one takes on an ascetic discipline, the proper benefit lies not primarily in stripping away comfort and pleasure but rather in creating the opportunity to find joy in God. Removing the customary delights that capture our attention so easily can provide an opportunity to rediscover what is most truly essential in our lives or to find God taking care of things that we thought we had to take care of for ourselves. Rather than Lenten fasting, I can now appreciate the validity of Lenten feasting, as long as it involves mindfully rejoicing in God’s bounty rather than merely indulging in one’s particular fancies.


We live in a world inundated with bad theology, and we’d be greatly helped if we spent some time forgetting about who we’ve been told Jesus is and instead encounter him for ourselves in the Gospel. He can certainly be hard to understand at times and can seem harsh and aloof. But he also celebrates and mourns, he laughs and riddles. He occasionally vents his anger but more frequently acts in compassionate mercy, without regard to what might be considered proper or respectable. He only seems to judge those who pass judgment on others and never ever metes out punishment, even though he does sometimes warn people for their own good (most often through parables that beg interpretation). He doesn’t harm others and seeks to either prevent or undo the harm that his disciples would visit upon others.


If I might make a small advertisement, I urge you to consider watching The Chosen, a series that for all its strengths and limitations offers what I consider to be the most authentic and compelling portrayal of Jesus I have ever seen filmed. By all means, engage in Lenten fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, especially if you can do so with the right disposition and in a way that positively affects others. But if you would like to feast instead of or in addition to your customary disciplines, this viewing could make a nice option.


Happy Lent! And no, that shouldn’t be a contradiction in terms.



This week I’m cheating by combining the “ear candy” and “brain food” into one.  I had meant this to be an annual Lenten tradition—using this offering in particular I mean—but I guess there must have been something distracting me in 2020? No idea what that might have been… anyway, I invite you to watch the video and listen to the lyrics at the link below as a way of reflecting on the grace-filled blessings present in the desert that accompany the hardships on which we so often dwell.

Ear Candy & Brain Food: Animation – “40” by Si Smith; Music – “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan


Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!


Previous Posts:


Feb 6 – Testimony 

Jan 2 – Unconditional 


Dec 5 – Gestation

Nov 7 – Where Hope Lives

Oct 3 – Enough 

Sep 5 – Assembly Required

Aug 1 – Stumped 

July 4 – Bitter and Sweet

June 6 – Fire

May 30 – Brother’s Keeper

May 23 – Remote

May 16 – Getting By

Apr. 25 – Thank God It’s Saturday

Apr. 18 – Joseph’s Fiat

Apr. 11 – Bells & Sirens

Apr. 4 – Adaptation

Mar. 28 – Guest Column

Mar. 21 – Moving Forward

Mar. 14 – Reality Check

Mar. 7 – Soar 

Feb. 29 – Hiking Lessons

Feb. 22 – Love in the Desert

Feb. 15 – Beautiful Life

Feb. 8 – Bad Science

Feb. 1 – All Shall Be Well

Jan. 25 – Let Somebody Love You

Jan. 18 – Extraordinary Time

Jan. 11 – L’Chaim!

Jan. 4 – Decisive


Dec. 28 – Can’t Alone

Dec. 21 – Unexpected Gifts 

Dec. 14 – No Room

Dec. 7 – End of the World

Nov. 30 – Elective Unpleasantness

Nov. 23 – Always Greater

Nov. 16 – Coloring Book

Nov. 9 – Justice and Mercy

Nov. 2 – Together in Loneliness

Oct. 26 – Gently

Oct. 19 – Flow

Oct. 12 – In This Place

Oct. 5 – Why Understanding

Sep. 28 – Stone to Flesh

Sep. 21 – Let God

Sep. 14 – Passion

Sep. 7 – Hermanos

Aug. 31 – 525,600

Aug. 24 – Pathway

Aug. 17 – Crazy Together

Aug. 10 – To Bridge

Aug. 3 – Stripes

July 27 – Ghost Town

July 20 – Adrift

July 13 – Borders without Borders

July 6 – Little Bit at a Time

June 29 – Holy Dissent

June 22 – Old Kentucky Home

June 15 – Steamer Trunk

June 8 – Squad

June 1 – Legacy

May 25 – Live like You’re Loved

May 18 – Purity of Heart

May 11 – Builders and Creator

May 4 – Value Proposition

Apr. 27 – Vital Signs

Apr. 20 – Let It Be Real

Apr. 13 – Meet Self

Apr. 6 – Let Go of the Best

Mar. 30 – Thirst

Mar. 23 – Back Home

Mar. 16 – Say Goodbye

Mar. 9 – Garden and Desert

Mar. 2 – In Transit

Feb. 23 – Wealth

Feb. 16 – In Place

Feb. 9 – Each and All

Feb. 2 – Not Disneyland

Jan. 26 – Pilgrim People

Jan. 19 – Waking Dream

Jan. 12 – Called and Sent

Jan. 5 – Divine Encounter


Dec. 29 -- Resolution

Dec. 22 – Room for Love?

Dec. 15 – Humbug!

Dec. 8 – Let It Begin with Me

Dec. 1 – Driven by Love

Nov. 24 – What Manner of King

Nov. 17 – Stranger

Nov. 10 – I Need Help to Be Holy

Nov. 3 – Fully Alive

Oct. 27 – Behind the Curtain

Oct. 20 – Questions. Answers?

Oct. 13 – Stumble & Fall

Oct. 6 – Young World

Sep. 29 – Defend Us in Battle

Sep. 22 – The Taste of Water

Sep. 15 – God’s Plan

Sep. 8 – Life Finds a Way