The Wilderness. Many, if not all, of us have spent time in the wilderness. That place where everything around us looks barren. Where the landscape looks bleak with no end – and is so vast that there’s no end in sight. It’s uncomfortable, lonely, wild, and impossible to control. And it’s so overwhelming that it feels like the new reality.
Its not a place that one would choose. In fact, its more of a place that we invest much time and energy into avoiding. For some reason, it was the place that Jesus entered willingly.
He had just had the precursor to the Transfiguration that we explored last week.
The heavens had parted.
The dove descended.
The voice declared him the beloved son of God.
The people noticed.
The prophet, his cousin, proclaimed him the one who had been foretold.
A cacophony of affirmation. A red carpet moment, if you will.
What do people usually do on the red carpet? They preen, they smile. They make sure everyone notices them. And they definitely use that moment as a way of escaping the wilderness within, if only for a moment.
But not Jesus. He turns away from the adulation, the affirmation. And walks directly into the wilderness.
Into that place that most avoid. The place where we face our insecurities, our fears, our loneliness, and our unworthiness.
And he stayed there for forty days and forty nights. We don’t know what he did during that time.
I’ve gone on silent retreats for a day or two days – but never for any extended period of time. And I’ve only fasted over an extended period (like 3 days) once.
Forty days. No food. No other people. No shelter from the elements. Nothing.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
Jan Richardson refers to this as liminal space – the in-between place between his earthly mission and the spiritual realm. The place for him to deepen his clarity and to prepare for what lies ahead.
When the forty days are up, he has faced all his ghosts. And so when Satan shows up to tempt him, he is clear.
When offered the possibility of turning stones to bread, he said that we don’t live by bread alone but by God’s word.
And when Satan challenged him to throw himself from a building, daring the angels to rescus him – he quoted Scripture again. That we aren’t to tempt God.
And finally, when Satan said he would give him all the kingdoms of the world (as if they were his to give), if Jesus would worship him. Jesus told Satan to be gone, quoting Scripture that only God is to be worshipped.
Power, fame, subsistence. The allure of the red carpet.
And then the angels ministered to him. Jan Richardson says she likes imagining them arriving with arms full of bread and wine. After 40 days of sleeping on the desert floor, I might add a massage table to the mix.
During Lent, we are also invited into the wilderness. Not a literal wilderness – but into those places where we struggle, where we hurt – either for ourselves or for others. Where we have distractions that separate us from a focus on God.
The places where we need to experience Easter.
During these forty days – and the number is no coincidence – we are encouraged to look at where our soul needs renewal, where we need to turn our attention from the distractions around us to God.
Its an opportunity to meet the God who comes to us in the desert.
Maybe the question for each of us this Lent is how we can see, touch, connect with the God who joins us in our wilderness, whatever that might look like.
Perhaps this Lent you need a practice that meets you at your place of deepest need. The place where you feel lonely or needing your love. Ask yourself what might soothe your soul, bring yourself to the living water.
Last year, I suggested a Lenten practice of reminding yourself daily that you’re Beloved. There’s no time limit on that suggestion.
Perhaps this Lent, you need to find a way to step away from the distractions that get in the way, that take your eyes off God.
Perhaps its daily prayer time, or a retreat. maybe blocking off a few hours a week to spend with God.
Perhaps, in light of what’s happening in our country and our continent, you need hope. To see the light of Christ shining in the darkness.
Perhaps its looking for signs of hope around us. Concentrating on that which is positive and affirming.
Jan Richardson has a poem that expresses the hope – or hope for hope.
That peace will rise like bread,
we can always hope.
That justice will flow like wine,
we can always hope.
That the table will make strangers kin,
we can always hope.
That our hope will rise like bread,
we can always pray.
Jan Richardson (http://sanctuaryofwomen.com/WomensChristmasRetreat2017.pdf, page 18)
This year the Pope is encouraging a different approach to Lent, beyond the usual fasting. He says that fasting must never become superficial. And that no act of virtue is great if it doesn’t bring advantage to others.
And so, this year, he encourages that for Lent we fast from indifference towards others. Indifference to others, when we are caught up in our own interests, clouds out God’s voice and blocks the joy of God’s love. And it prevents us from feeling compassion to others. When we fast from indifference, we feast on love.
Other things we can do if we’re needing hope include keeping a gratitude journal. Or being a part of our country’s Truth & Reconciliation Calls to Action. It is in keeping what those calls that I began by acknowledging that we are on Treaty One Territory and the ancestral home of the Metis.
Whatever your path looks like this Lent, we are encouraged to meet Christ in the wilderness. To go there, away from distractions and to focus on him. To find clarity. And to know that we will be ministered to.
I want to close with another poem from Jan Richardson. A desert prayer.
I am asking you
to take this wilderness from me,
to remove this place of starkness
where I come to know the wilderness within me,
where I learn to call the names
of the ravenous beasts
that pace inside me,
to finger the brambles
that snake through my veins,
to taste the thirst
that tugs at my tongue.
But send me
(Jan Richardson – http://paintedprayerbook.com/2008/02/07/desert/)
— March 5, 2017 —