So Naaman came with his team and chariot and drew up at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent him a messenger to say, ‘Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will become clean once more.’ But Naaman was indignant and went off, saying, ‘Here was I thinking he would be sure to come out to me, and stand there, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the spot and cure the leprous part. Surely Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, are better than any water in Israel? Could I not bathe in them and become clean?’ And he turned round and went off in a rage. But his servants approached him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet had asked you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? All the more reason, then, when he says to you, “Bathe, and you will become clean.”’ So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, as Elisha had told him to do. And his flesh became clean once more like the flesh of a little child.
‘Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan…’ The instruction leaves Naaman outraged. Here he was, expecting a miracle, a spectacular healing. Maybe he’d heard about Elijah’s fiery victory over the prophets of Ba’al. (Now there’s a story.) Naaman’s servants respond to his indignation with reason: if he had asked you to do something extraordinary, you would have done it, wouldn’t you? Well, then, why not do the ordinary thing?
Perhaps something like this exchange might take place in the days or weeks leading up to Lent. What extraordinary thing can we give up or take on in order to be healed? This Lent, I really wanted to pray the office. Really. Never mind the fact that I have four young children–one is under two, and the eldest has Down Syndrome–and a half-time lecturing post that involves enough work to occupy me full-time. I love praying the office with the nuns when I am on retreat. The rhythm of prayer and quiet restores my soul in a way nothing else does.
But I am not on retreat: I am standing on the banks of the muddy Jordan, with a toddler on one hip and the third edition of The Modern Theologians on the other. (The toddler is heavier, but only just.) There are Lenten disciplines prescribed by the church: special days of fasting and abstinence, the sacrament of reconciliation, opportunities for giving and praying within the parish. Lent isn’t about heroic deeds of asceticism, it’s about humility. Perhaps my failure to pray the office daily during Lent ought to remind me that Lent is about obedience, not about willpower.
Time to go and bathe in the Jordan, I suppose: repentance and submission are the way to healing.