The Judean Wilderness, February, 2010

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 4: 1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Well, you know that we’re coming up on the first Sunday in Lent when you read of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness.  To be honest, most of us are incredibly uncomfortable with this passage.  After all, how can Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, the gift of the father’s unfailing grace, Emmanuel, God With Us, the Savior of the World be tempted?  How can that even be possible? And why would someone like Jesus even risk it?  What, really, is Jesus doing out in the wilderness all by himself?  What, really, is the purpose at all?  I mean, it almost sounds like this was an attempt to gather some sort of proof that Jesus was who he was.  I’ve always been just a bit distrustful of “proof” of the Divine.  So, what is this all about?

In Russian (because THAT’S current), the word poustinia means “a desert, a lonely and silent place”.  It is a place of solitude.  In the Russian Orthodox tradition, a poustinik was one who was called by God to live alone in the desert with God.  But the notion was not looked upon as a solitary life removed from the rest of the world.  Because it was there that he or she prayed, fasted, and made oneself available to humanity.  Think of the poustinik as humanity’s listener.  The idea was that even though the poustinik lived in solitude, there was always a part of him or her that was open to the world, a door to a life of solitude that invited the world in and sent the person forth.

And yet, this pilgrimage into the wilderness is not really part of the world in which most of us live.  Our culture may be a bit too goal-oriented and scheduled for that.  We tend to respond better to words like “connection”, “community”, and “fellowship”.  (Those are the words on which religious entities build good mission statements, aren’t they?)  Going out into the desert or the wilderness alone to find oneself or center oneself sometimes sounds to us a little selfish, as if the person is not participating with others, not caring for others.  Maybe our problem is that we’ve forgotten the door, the threshold.  We forgot that there is always a door between solitude with God and the world, between the community of faith and that part of the Godself that each of us hold inside of us.  It is not an either-or.  The poustiniks understood that.  They stepped into the solitude to connect with God while at the same time keeping a foothold on the world, being available in case the world needed them or open to what God needed them to take into the world.  It was a way of listening and a way of active faith.

Maybe that’s why this passage is so difficult for us.  We forgot that there was always a door.  Jesus was not shutting himself away from the world.  Jesus was called to the world (good grief, he was the Savior of the World, was he not?).  But in the bustling and noisy ways of the world, it is important to find the door, to listen to God, to enter the solitude of our deepest self so that we can finally hear where we are called to go.  There will always be voices pulling us away, pulling us toward things that we think we need, things that we think will help us in life, or things that will give us the power to do what we think we should do.  But deep within us is a holy place of solitude, a place where we can listen to God unencumbered by the voices of the world.   Some of us need to go into the wilderness to hear it; others need to only listen where we are.  Jesus trek into the wilderness was not because he needed to get away from the world but rather so that he could hear the world’s needs and God’s calling to fill them with grace.

The poustinia is within, and one is forever immersed in the silence of God. foreverlistening to the word of God, forever repeating it to others in word and deed.  (Catherine Doherty)

On this Lenten journey as we traverse through the wilderness, think of those place of solitude in your life.  Where are those place where you are at your best at listening to the needs of the world, at listening to what God is calling you to do?

Grace and Peace,


One thought on “Poustinia

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