‘An Invitation Into the Desert With the Lord’: Sister Miriam Heidland Offers a Fresh Perspective on Lent
Sister Miriam Heidland discusses her new book, which presents the penitential disciplines as powerful tools for healing relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves.
Lent can be complicated. We puzzle over what to “give up,” where to incorporate more prayer and almsgiving into our lives, and how to express and experience fully this penitential season.
Then along comes Sister Miriam James Heidland, of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, with her new book Restore and a different approach to these 40 sacred days. She reiterates again and again the truth of God’s unconditional love for each one of us and emphasizes that the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are simple tools to help us heal our relationship with the Lord, with ourselves and with others.
Sister Miriam — who leads healing retreats for priests, women religious and laity across the nation — recently spoke with the Register about Restore and her hopes for this guidebook to living out the fullness of God’s love.
So many Lenten books and guides focus on the mortification aspect of the season, but your book focuses on God’s love. Did you plan it that way, or did that evolve as you started writing?
You see that theme in the book because that’s what the Lord has been pressing on my heart since I started my healing journey 17 years ago; everything you’re going to encounter in the book are things I encounter in my own heart.
The Lord is continually revealing his love in those places, the places we think disqualify us from his love. When we allow him to take us to those places, he actually reveals the truth of who he is and who we are; it becomes embedded in our hearts and melds the theology of our head with the theology of our heart.
In the introduction, you write that the reader is beginning a “dangerous” journey. What do you mean by that?
It’s dangerous in the sense that the journey is dangerous to our idols, dangerous to our fig leaves, dangerous to the places we hide behind that we don’t even recognize — the places where we shy away from authentic love. When we allow Jesus to come and bring us into these places, he brings us into the truth of who we are.
Lent is not something we take on ourselves as a superficial or external exercise. Lent is an invitation into the desert with the Lord — a place where everything is laid bare. It’s the place where Jesus is going to overcome all our temptations. He’s going to be faithful. He’s not going to fail in his mission. He’s going to take on every temptation we’ve ever had and emerge victorious.
In his suffering, he takes on our death; he takes on our sin — he takes on everything. All he’s inviting us into is his own beautiful life. We wake up on Easter, and our lives are different.
What does it mean to experience Lent as a healing journey?
Healing is not fixing. It’s wholeness and integration. It’s exactly what the disciplines [of prayer, fasting and almsgiving] do. These are the healing remedies of the Church to bring us into wholeness, in the three places where we’re broken: relationships with the Lord, ourselves and others.
The healing disciplines of Lent — which come from Jewish tradition — have long been held as ways of bringing about communion. When Adam and Eve in the Garden turn away from God, they rupture that relationship. The Church gives us prayer as a means of healing our relationship with God. It heals the fundamental identity of who we are.
As we’re broken in the garden, the intellect is weakened; the will is weakened; passions become out of order. Fasting is so much more than [giving up] alcohol or meat or Instagram. It reveals our deeper desires — what we ache for. It reveals our idols, what we turn to when we turn from God. Fasting forces us to turn to God and say, “What am I really hungering for?” It orders our love. It’s not just a diet!
We can make a gift of ourselves, and that’s what almsgiving is. Almsgiving heals our relationship with each other. One of the best alms you can give, for yourself and others, is forgiveness. Even being present to people is a beautiful way to give alms: to put the phone away, to put the distractions away, not trying to figure out how to fix [others], how to out-argue them. Just to be present to somebody is so incredibly healing! That’s what we all want: somebody to really listen.
God is always present to us. He’s never distracted. He’s listening to us, receiving us, speaking the truth in love. Just be present to the people around you. See how difficult that is and what the Lord is showing you with your own heart.
You place tremendous emphasis on prayer in your book. Do you feel that it is harder for today’s Catholics to maintain healthy prayer lives?
I think we all need that reminder that prayer is our lifeblood. Our primary relationship is with God; if that’s lacking or dry, it’s going to be difficult to love well. All of us need the reminder of that primacy of prayer — not just rote prayers, but prayer from the heart. No matter what we’re doing — saying the Rosary, devotion to a saint, going to Mass — [these activities are] tethered to the heart. We’re not just going through the motions; [these actions] transform us, because that’s what [they’re] intended to do.
Any last words you’d like to leave with our readers?
I just hope they allow their hearts to be encountered by Jesus. He loves us so much, and his love is so incredibly kind and so beautiful. There’s not a place in our heart he doesn’t want to be with us.
Just let Jesus bring you home this Lent.
Restored is available from Ave Maria Press. With purchase of the book, you also receive access to the series of companion videos.
- sister miriam heidland
- ave maria press
- sacrament of penance
- lent and pope francis, jesus in the desert