Many of us grew up with the story of the Three Little Pigs who came across an untimely end when they encountered the Big Bad Wolf. The story was told from the perspective of, and with sympathy for, the pigs.

The original story portrays the wolf huffing and puffing and blowing down the straw and stick-made houses of the first two little pigs. The wolf was bad, and we didn’t like him by the end of the story. He deserved his comeuppance: In the original tale, the wolf dies trying to break into the third pig’s brick house.

But the story told from the perspective of the wolf, a retelling by children’s author Jon Scieszka[1], shows an entirely different reason for the wolf’s aggressive actions. The wolf was making a cake for his granny. And he ran out of sugar. So, he decided to go and ask his neighbours for a little bit of sugar, just like anyone might do in a friendly neighbourhood, right?

Problem is, Mr. Wolf had a bad cold. And he was sneezing all the time. And basically, that’s what leads to the straw and stick homes being blown down. He eats the dead pigs not to be wasteful of good food and it is in his nature to eat, after all.

In the revised story, the third pig inside the brick house insults the wolf’s granny. And the wolf doesn’t stand for any disrespect for his elder. So the wolf wants to give the pig a piece of his mind. But things don’t turn out so well for the wolf, as we know. We may still not side with Mr. Wolf completely, yet the revised version gives us a more sympathetic understanding for the wolf’s actions.

Taking an old story that everyone knows and re-telling it from a different perspective can lead to new insights and a deeper understanding of the truth. 

In the Gospel story for today[2], the narrative Peter believes is the one the world talks about. Jesus announces first that he will suffer and die. And the world’s narrative about suffering and death is that these things are to be denied and avoided at all costs. We deny suffering because it leads to meaningless despair, anguish, sorrow and a helpless, endless demise into nothingness. That’s the world’s perspective.

Peter, at first, only sees it from the world’s perspective. No wonder he “rebukes” Jesus. The notion that the Messiah should suffer and die – who would stand for that?!

The world cannot initially grasp this notion of faith amidst the suffering, the hope born out of death to new life. We kind of easily, even unwittingly, remain stuck in the negativity of it all. And that can only lead to despair. And keep us stuck there.

I think Lent is about critically looking at the narratives we believe – believe about ourselves, God, and others. Seeing it from a different perspective might help dislodge some of our unhelpful assumptions. So, Lent is first about grieving the past. It is about, first, the suffering and death parts of what Jesus said. We cannot deny nor avoid it. So we must confront our pain, losses and suffering. We must feel it and grieve it.

This year, we are accustomed very much so to the feeling of Lent. After all, the entire year has felt like Lent, so today is just another blurs-day, another “ashy day.”[3]

In the words of Diana Butler Bass, “The point is that for more than a year now, that’s pretty much all I’ve done — reflect, pray, and read, mostly alone, all the while worried that I might die, someone I love might die, or I’d unwittingly contribute (by my own carelessness) to someone else dying. Every time I put on a mask, I think of death and dying.”[4]

In a year where over twenty thousand Canadians have died from COVID and millions of people around the world, the Lenten discipline of contemplating mortality seems like one more painful day. Every single day, these days it seems, is an exercise in mortality, as we see our dusty illusions of existence coming at us like a wicked lake-effect blizzard.

But Jesus also then says that, after the suffering and death, he will rise again to new life. That promise undergirds all our suffering and dying. Jesus introduces a different perspective, a new narrative for life: Death has not the final word. We can endure what we must endure because of the promise of transformation, renewal and new life, in Christ Jesus.

A couple who postponed indefinitely their wedding date from last summer because of the social restrictions reflected on how they felt about the uncertainty of it all. Before COVID they knew their love was going to be publicly professed in a wedding on a specific date. Today, they still don’t have a wedding date despite their ongoing commitment to set one when the time is right.

What remains constant nevertheless is their love for each other. The groom said that there is a certain degree of growing anticipation and joy with each passing day, not knowing when that date will be, yet confident only that it will happen someday.

Perhaps there is a hope we can feel with that couple. Grounded in a steadfast love that pre-exists any crisis we face, can we live each day in the hope that one day we will come out of the pandemic intact? New life emerges from the dust heap of Lent. We continue on in this hope, this blessed promise.

And that’s a perspective worth believing in.

[1] Jon Scieszka, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (Toronto: Penguin/Scholastic, 1991)

[2] For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B – Mark 8:31-38

[3] Diana Butler Bass, “Just Another Ashy Day” in The Cottage (, 17 Feb 2021).

[4] Ibid.


Adam Shoalts was hungry. For four months in the summer of 2017 during his four-thousand-kilometre adventure alone across Canada’s Arctic, he admitted that he was constantly hungry.[1]

Even though he was able to consume over three thousand calories a day mainly by eating energy bars and freeze-dried meals on the fly, his extreme physical labour meant he was still losing weight and craving even more food. 

He had to learn to live with it.

Feverishly paddling his canoe sometimes seventy kilometres a day across Great Bear Lake, poling his canoe against the strong currents on the great Mackenzie or Coppermine Rivers in the far north, hauling his canoe over giant rapids, or carrying all his gear through muddy swamps for up to forty-kilometre portages burned every calorie and more that his body stored. 

And he had to keep moving. Most of the Far North is encased in ice and snow for nine months of the year. He had only a narrow window of time in which to make this impossible trek. Once he had to pass on fishing for seventy-pound lake trout off the north shore of Great Bear Lake in order to keep his torrid, exhausting pace to make it across in time.

But it was even before his journey began where he shows his discipline to learn to live with and accept his hunger. Friends were driving him and his gear up the Dempster Highway in the Yukon towards Fort McPherson. They stopped at an old inn on the gravel roadway near the Arctic Circle. The hosts offered to cook up anything on the menu. His friends ordered the chili. They encouraged Shoalts to eat the chili as well, since in the next four months his staple would consist of a more meagre fare.

Instead, Shoalts calmly chose one oatmeal cookie, without thinking more of it. He knew that should he pig-out on his last meal he would not wisely manage his stomach for success, for the long grind ahead.

While reading again the traditional Gospel story for this First Sunday in Lent – Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness – I paused at the part where the devil tempts Jesus to eat.[2]“He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” So, this was quite a temptation Jesus overcame when he denied the devil’s baiting.

In order to walk in the way of Jesus, it’s also traditional in Lent to give something up – a favourite food or other unhealthy habits. Why do we do this? One reason, is we want positive change in our lives. Eating less chocolate, watching less TV or abstaining from meat will make us better, healthier people, we believe. Transformation is another word for it. 

Transformation in the way of Christ often comes from first letting go of something. The changes we yearn for – the new thing which we envision and to which we aspire – can’t happen without first loosening our controls, certitudes and compulsions.[3]And living with the pangs of hunger for a while.

Our ego will resist. Because on the surface we don’t want to go without. We don’t want to be uncertain about the outcome of our labour. We don’t want to confront our cravings, and ‘feel’ hungry. We compulsively want more and more, instant gratification. 

It almost feels scandalous to say – especially to privileged people that we are – that God created us to know hunger, to know this yearning for food, material and spiritual. What is the good about feeling this hunger?

Being hungry exposes what we really believe, deep down, what we really think. This awareness can lead to a re-consideration and revision of long held assumptions. Going without also forces us into a deeper listening to what is going on around us. As we suffer the pangs of any kind of hunger, our egos have less energy to get in the way, and we listen more, we receive more and we accept more. We learn what it’s like to let go. 

That’s why fasting has been a common tradition in Lent. It is at this point in the experience of the journey where the seed of transformation is born and out of which true growth emerges.

The kind of Lenten discipline that attracts my attention are those commitments that connect doing without with giving more. So, for example, when people eat less and the difference from what they would normally have consumed they donate or give in some way to others in need. The inner discipline of letting go is inextricably linked to an outer discipline of blessing the world.

There are almost a billion people on this planet who go to bed hungry every night. There are around thirty thousand Canadians who don’t have their own ‘home’ and sleep on the street. During this COVID winter we are advised to ‘stay home’; but, indeed, what if you don’t have a home? Jesus identifies with those who go hungry. God knows how it feels, in our humanity, to be hungry, to have no home and be without.

In the end, the story about Jesus’ temptation in the desert is a story about God’s intention to be human and identify fully with our humanity. God will go the distance, will experience what it’s like to do without, will feel the pangs of hunger – a hunger for us, a hunger for relationship, a hunger to be in communion with everyone and everything. 

God will identify not just with the part of ourselves that we wish everyone will see, but also with that part of us that hungers, that is lacking in us. God’s vision of love is set on the hungering stomach and the hungering soul. That’s where God goes, into the desert wildernesses of our lives. Will we?

I haven’t yet finished reading the book about Adam Shoalts’ incredible journey. But I assume he survived and reached his end goal on the shores of Hudson Bay, since he lived to write about it. And I suspect he is all the better a person for reaching his goal, and grateful, for having paid the price of being hungry for a while.

God bless you on your journey of Lent.

[1]Adam Shoalts, Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic (Toronto: Penguin, 2020).

[2]Mark 1:13; though Matthew and Luke provide more detailed descriptions of the Temptation of Jesus. See Luke 4:2 and Matthew 4:2. 

[3]Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media), p.84.

Into crucible of fever and fire

The popularity of the “Bell Let’s Talk” social media event every year (in Canada) has increased our awareness of mental health. Especially this year, in the throes of a worldwide pandemic, we may very well have a contemporary equivalent to the kind of “demons” that afflicted Galilean communities in Jesus’ day. We all struggle with, as we say, our own demons.

When adversity strikes, when prolonged periods of desolation, unknowing, doubt and uncertainty weigh heavy on us like a suffocating blanket we cannot seem to throw off.

Indeed, these are the times Jesus enters the lives of people – when they are in crisis. The context of the healing stories that reveal the divinity of Christ are times of suffering of some kind in the lives of the people Jesus encounters. Why does Jesus, born of God, care to go first, like a magnet, into these messy and dark places of our lives?

After telling the first healing story of Simon’s mother-in-law, the Gospel writer Mark makes a statement-of-fact-like claim when he concludes that the demons, “they knew” Jesus.[1]They recognized him, as they already declared in the healing story prior to this one.[2]

The flipside is true, too. To know another is for the other to know you. The demons knew Jesus. But for this to be true, Jesus had to know them. God, in Christ, knows intimately the darkness, the pain and the suffering of our lives.

The first steps in faith during a crisis is to welcome Jesus in. Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew before any healing could happen. They had to let Jesus into the space of this crisis where Simon’s mother-in-law suffered from a fever. We welcome Jesus into the messy, dark, suffering region of our souls. Not to deny Jesus entrance into that which may be embarrassing, shameful or guilt-ridden. Not to pretend, deny or hide Jesus from these places in our life.

But precisely because Jesus knows our demons, the road to healing will not close the door of our burdened hearts to God but opens them wide in trusting vulnerability.

Nathan Drum was all set to become a successful, big-city lawyer when he joined the military and fought in the Second World War overseas. In William Krueger’s award-winning fiction book entitled, Ordinary Grace, Nathan returned home a changed man. 

His experience in war affected him so much so that he came back and did a 180. He enrolled in Seminary and became a pastor serving a three-point parish in rural Minnesota.

Some of his friends and family wondered what happened that would have changed him, thinking that it must have been a specific incident in the war itself that must have done something to him.

His friend, Emil, offered a different perspective when they considered another friend of theirs, a veteran of the Korean War who came back to heavy drinking and physically abusing his family.

Emil, a veteran himself, says, “Sometimes, Nathan, I think that it wasn’t so much the war as what we took into the war. Whatever cracks were already there the war forced apart, and what we might otherwise have kept inside came spilling out.

“You may have gone to war thinking you were going to be a hotshot lawyer afterward, but I believe that deep inside you there was always the seed of a minister.”[3]

Into the crisis, that is personal for you, Jesus will enter boldly and without hesitation. Christ will enter in, to expose and shed loving light on our heavy hearts and whatever pain we bear.

Jesus will also expose the seed of the truth in ourselves. Not only is the darkness revealed, but the light in us as well. Those ‘seeds’ are deep within us, and we may have for a long time kept these inside, hidden from view. But on this journey Jesus will open to us our capacity for love, for compassion, for mercy and forgiveness. That is the way. The way of Jesus.

The journey there may be painful and will call from us endurance and resiliency. By leaning on the support of others who offer their loving presence and help, we will know we are not alone on this journey. And that, in the end, what ultimately emerges will be the beautiful flowering of who we are and for what purpose we are made.

Some will denounce the lockdown as harmful to us. Some will decry the pandemic restrictions as an unfortunate reality, something we should avoid, deny and as quickly as possible get past and get back to normal. For some of us, we will need professional help to deal with our crisis of mental health, or of a financial situation, or the loss of any kind brought on by the worldwide crisis.

But for most of us whose lives have nonetheless been changed by the pandemic, I believe this crisis can be an opportunity to re-engage the inner and transcendent dimensions of our lives and the journey of faith. Before we can do anything effective out there, we have to come to terms with what’s in here. 

In all truth, faith is born in adversity. Faith in Christ cannot be experienced apart from the crucible of fever and fire. Christ will be present into the crisis. And Jesus will touch our hearts, aflame with pain, touch our hearts to heal them and activate therein the fire of love, patience, forgiveness and compassion – for oneself and then for the other.

[1]Mark 1:34, NRSV

[2]In Mark 1:24, the demon assailing the man in the synagogue cries out to Jesus, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

[3]William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace: A Novel (New York: Atria Paperback/ Simon & Schuster, 2014), p.67-68.