Wilderness Wanderings

This week’s lectionary Gospel passage is the Markan account of Jesus’ Baptism, followed by his 40-day time in the wilderness as he prepared for his ministry. Now for most of us, conjuring up images of a wilderness takes some thought as we sit in the midst of skyscrapers, paved roads, and fenced lawns. So we try to imagine thick, wooded landscapes with hanging vines obstructing our way and our view. But, think about it, the wilderness that Jesus knew was probably desert–unobstructed, yes, but with nothing to mark your way, nothing to “hang on to” when you felt like you were getting lost. And what about the pathway? Rather than being merely difficult to tread, it was changing all the time, as the winds and sands continually blew over it, marring its very existence. And then…the temptations…so much more evident in the wilderness–the temptation to take control, the temptation to take the easy way out, the temptation to turn back. So, why in the world would Jesus spend time in this seemingly God-forsaken wilderness?

Jesus, rather than depriving himself, was emptying himself. Without paved pathways and landscapes marking our way, we are vulnerable. And it is when we are the most vulnerable that we realize that we need God. When the temptations are staring us in the face, we need God more than ever. And that is also when we realize that the wilderness is far from being God-forsaken. God is always there but, finally, the fact that we are empty makes us acutely aware of God’s Presence in a way that we’ve never known. In fact, the wilderness is God-bearing and by emptying ourselves, by entering the wilderness, we finally make room to become God-bearing too.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Hampton Court, near London, which probably has some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. As we walked through the gardens, we were struck by row upon row of colorful blooms—a horticulturist’s dream. There were roses and camellias and daffodils of all sizes and colors and just the fact that they were all so perfect was utterly amazing. The beauty of Creation was at its most picturesque. As we walked through the gardens, there was one area that looked extremely odd among the perfectly manicured plats. It looked forgotten and overgrown, full of weeds and not a flower in sight. It reminded me of those “open for adoption” litter signs where you know that the next mile or so will be littered with trash as a symptom of the “forgotten child”. I thought it was very odd in this plethora of perfection to see something so forgotten, so fallow, and so hopeless. There was even a chain across the entrance barring any more investigation. Someone, I thought, ought to take control here and do something! But as I was about to leave, I noticed a sign. According to the sign, in order for these gardens to bloom throughout the season with continual colors, there is a system of “rolling fallow”—a crop rotation of sorts. This wilderness-looking area was just that—a fallow, resting wilderness—an intentional wilderness in order that it might be nurtured and fed. It was not dead—it was allowing God to work on it.

Maybe that’s what we’re called to do in this season of Lent–to create an intentional wilderness, a place stripped of those things on which we rely, a place where we become the most vulnerable, a place where we have no control, a place where we can meet God, a place where, finally, we can become a God-bearer. Maybe Lent is the time when we finally let go and allow God to work on us that we might burst forth on Easter morning in radiant bloom.

So go forth this season into the wilderness that you might finally be prepared to know God!

Grace and Peace,



In this Sunday’s Lectionary readings, the passage from the Hebrew Scriptures is the end of the account of Noah and The Great Flood. Noah and his family have listened to God, built the ark, and have now been cooped up for months as the torrential waters pounded against the wood of their somewhat tenuous residence, drowning the very earth and all the foundations that they knew. Noah sends a bird out to “test the waters”. The bird returns. After several attempts, the bird finally does not return. The land is ready; the waters have receded and the earth has reappeared. And there–there in the sky is a splash of color, a bow in the clouds, the sign of God’s promise that Creation will never again be separated from its Creator.

The Celts understood the rainbow as a bridge, a threshold between what is and what will be. It is, in Celtic terms, a “thin place”, as the thin gaseous vapors form a sort of bridge in the clouds between one way of being and the next. This is the bridge to promise and discovery; this is the bridge to life. Hey….maybe there really is a pot of gold at the end!

This is a perfect passage for Lent. We are indeed in a threshold season, a season between one world and the next, between death and eternity, between who we are and what we will be. Lent is not a season where we withdraw, pulling ourselves away from our lives and the world. For some of us, we think we need to do that, giving up things that are part of our lives to remind us of our connection to God. Don’t get me wrong. Lent is a contemplative and retrospective season, a season when we take a good hard look at our lives, at their failings and misgivings, at the ways that we have been complicit in the continued crucifixion of goodness and grace and love. But the retrospection is not to fill us with remorse or regret; it is to propel us forward through the threshold. It is to open to our eyes to the thin places, where the colors come alive and the way is clear.

The rainbow, the promise of hope, is, in physical terms, a reflection. It is a mirror of what surrounds it. And in that mirror, in that threshold, we see ourselves–our life, our death, and, our glorious resurrection. Because, after all, that IS the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

So go forth this season and seek the threshold–do not be afraid–it is filled with hope and promise like nothing you’ve ever known!

Grace and Peace,


Ash Wednesday

Lent, which, literally, means “springtime” is a time of nurturing and preparation. And, like springtime, it is also a time of growth and renewal, a re-greening and bringing back to life of our winter-worn souls. Our forty days of Lent are reminiscent of the forty trying days that Jesus spent in the dry and secluded wilderness as he readied himself for his ministry. In the same way, this is a preparation time for us as we begin that walk toward the cross and into a deeper walk with God.

Joan Chittister says that “Lent is not an event. It is not something that happens to us. It is at most a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey to the center of the self. The purpose of Lent is to confront us with ourselves in a way that’s conscious and purposeful, that enables us to deal with the rest of life well.” She calls it a “growing season”, rather than a “penitential season”. We are not called to wallow in guilt during this time; we are not necessarily called to deprive ourselves of things we need; we are called to begin to look at things differently.

So on this Ash Wednesday, as we begin this journey, we are called to repentance, to a turning around, to change. People often look upon this day with fear and trembling. It is not meant to be that way. But it is a day that forces us to look at ourselves and our own lives and, perhaps for some of us, that can be a little uncomfortable. Think of it, though, as a threshold that begins a journey into new life, a window to a new way of seeing, and a doorway to a new way of being. It is a time for clearing, a time for preparing the ground for planting; it is a time for breathing out, letting out all the things that stand in the way of your relationship with God, thereby making way to breathe in what God offers. It is the day when we say “here I am, God, just as I am. But I am ready. I am ready to change! I am ready to be renewed and made whole.” And it is the day when we finally admit that we cannot do it alone and that somewhere in the fallow of our lives, God comes in and we are made whole.

So Ash Wednesday is not just a day of morose belittling of ourselves. A rabbi once told his disciples, “Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on their needs. When feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “Ani eifer v’afar; I am dust and ashes. But when feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or without hope, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “Bishvili nivra ha’olam…For my sake the world was created.”
Lent is not about giving things up; it is about emptying your life that you may be filled. Lent is not about going without; it is about making room for what God has to offer. And this beginning of Lent is not about clothing yourself in the morbidness of your humanity; it is about embracing who you are before God.

So go toward the Cross and embrace the you that God is breathing in!

Grace and Peace,



Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday when we read of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and the Gospel passage that depicts the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top. Both of these sometimes seem to be sort of fantastical, hard-to-believe images. I mean, after all, the whirlwind, the chariot, bright lights, descending clouds, and, of course, Old Testament heroes and prophets reappearing. But, you know, anything can happen on that mountain. After all, it is on the mountain that we can see beyond ourselves; it is on the mountain that everything is illumined in all directions; and it is on the mountain that God appears to us.
We don’t really know if there was a real “mountain” or not. (In all truth, the literal topography just doesn’t seem to work!) For me, a metaphorical one works just as nicely. It is that place where God appears to me. Some people claim to have had one stand-out, quintessential experience that turned their whole life toward God. For me, I have had a series of mountain-top and near-mountain-top experiences throughout my life. None stand out as “the one”, but each one in its own way has redirected me toward God, toward the cross, and has indeed changed my life.
I think that is the reason that we read of this Transfiguration right before Lent. It is our redirecting, our refocusing, if you will, from our ordinary everyday lives toward the Lenten journey–the journey to the cross. In many ways, the Transfiguration is the climax of the human experience of Jesus–the mountain-top experience. And then Jesus tells the disciples to keep what happened to themselves, if only for now. And then the lights dim. There are no chariots, Moses and Elijah are gone, and, if only for awhile, God seems to be silent. And it is in that silence that Jesus walks down the mountain toward Jerusalem. And he asks us to follow. And we can–because now we see the way to go. Because we have truly been changed!
So go forth from the mountain and begin your journey to the cross!
Grace and Peace,