In the 1920s, a French poet named Pierre Reverdy was living in Paris. He had a huge fight with the love of his life, the designer Coco Chanel and, in a fit of depression, burned a stack of poems and abandoned Paris to live near the monastery in Solesmes, France. For years, even as he lived the life of a decadent, worldly poet, he had been quietly exploring the Catholic faith. His heartbreak finally motivated him to officially become Catholic. For the rest of his life, Pierre Reverdy lived alone in a small hut under the shadow of the monastery wall. He never left Solesmes.
When poetry critics describe Reverdy’s lonesome life, they struggle to make sense of the fact that his faith didn’t cure his psychological and emotional difficulties. He continued to struggle mightily with depression and his faith was always conflicted and full of difficulties. Because of this, it’s assumed he had a brief fling with faith and then discarded it. But in fact, his faith was deep and abiding. In his poetry, he’s honest about doubt, how he felt like he was trapped in a room, and he returns again and again to his conversion, which was like walking alone down a dark, windswept street. When he turned around to look behind, nothing was the same. He was alone in the world, always a traveler, never quite at home.
I’m reminded of the wandering Israelites in the Sinai desert. In turning around and wishing for Egypt again, they realized there was no going back. Egypt wasn’t home and it never was, so they crouched in the shadow of the Rock of Meribah and kept their faces turned to God’s guiding flame. They weren’t always happy about it. They were a desolate, murmuring people, cut adrift and alone, a 40-year Lent.
The Lent of Our Lord was 40 days, just like ours, but His solitude more complete. So alone was He that Satan saw an opportunity to pounce, because it is when we’re feeling lonely that we’re most vulnerable. Before His temptation, Christ was announced by another lonely man, John the Baptist, who was so odd that he wandered the trackless wilderness talking to anyone who would listen. The ministry of the Messiah that he announced lasted only three years, punctuated by lonely nights under the stars as Jesus communed with His invisible Father. The loneliness gathered itself into the suffering of the Passion as He was abandoned and betrayed, left to hang by His wounds, crying out for succor.
This is the loneliness of Lent. It’s the feeling that our lives hang in the balance but what we seek is just beyond our grasp, achieved only by suffering. I’ve felt that loneliness, as I’m sure you have, too, feeling misunderstood, overlooked, unloved. Or we feel that God is hidden and far away, that our faith is too riddled with doubt to be genuine. Take that loneliness and wait in the shadow of the cross. Jesus is there, and nothing would make Him happier than being alone with you.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.