The Wilderness is Our Place of Refuge

desert%20shelterScripture Text:  Matthew 2: 13-15

13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”


We are accustomed to the wilderness being a scary place, a wild and unpredictable mass of chaos that becomes our nemesis, our thing to conquer. So how can it be a place of refuge? There is nothing about it that feels safe. There is nothing about it that feels like we are in control. There is nothing about it that feels like it is protecting us. And yet, after the birth of Jesus, after that hard birth in the grotto of Bethlehem, Joseph is called into yet another wilderness. Joseph is told to flee to Egypt. The reason that Joseph and his new family are called into the wilderness isn’t about awakening or questing or getting to a promised land of some sort. Joseph is called into the wilderness so that the wilderness can be a refuge. What an odd twist of events?


But when you think about it, this has happened before. The Israelites were released into the wilderness in order to pursue freedom, freedom, ironically, from Egypt. The wilderness is their way to freedom. And now, Joseph and his family return, traversing the wilderness in search of freedom, in search of safety from Herod, from the certain death of Jesus the child. Maybe Egypt was never the captor at all, but just the other side of the wilderness, the other side of freedom. But this fleeing into the wilderness by Joseph and Mary and their child is to gain refuge. Here, the wilderness is a place of refuge.


Maybe it’s the same for us. Maybe we don’t trust it as refuge because we can’t control it or predict it or pave its path. After all, we tend to think of it as “all or nothing”. How can I guarantee my safety? How can I protect myself against all harm? How can I insure that nothing will happen to me? Well, you can’t. God does not provide some sort of Divine bubble around our lives. Things happen. Bad things happen. Maybe rather than closing us off to life, God calls us into wildernesses so that we will have nothing to hold onto except God. God provides a refuge not from the things of life or the things that we can’t control, but from those things that get in the way of who we are, those things that perhaps protect us so much that they become our captors, our enslavers. But in the refuge of the wilderness, we have to let them go. For us, just as those before us, the wilderness is our way not to safety or protection from life, but to freedom. Because in the freedom of the wilderness, when we have let go of the things that we hold so tightly, we find that God is holding us, providing a refuge, a way to freedom, a way forward.


This Season of Lent, like the wilderness, is often wild and untamed. And yet, it gets us out of ourselves, providing a refuge, offering freedom so that we can move forward finally unhindered and free from enslavement. This Lenten wilderness journey can be our refuge if we only let it.


God, I am sorry I ran from you. I am still running, running from that knowledge, that eye, that love from which there is no refuge. For you meant only love, and love, and I felt only fear, and pain. So once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid. (Annie Dillard)


FOR TODAY: Leave yourself behind. Let God provide a refuge in the wilderness, freedom from what stands in the way of life. Do not run. Stay and bask in the loving refuge of God.


Grace and Peace,




Let My People Go (Into the Wilderness)

Open gatesScripture Text:  Exodus 5: 1

 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’“

We know the story. The people had been taken away, held in slavery. And now, God is insisting: “Let my people go.” The truth is, it probably wasn’t slavery as we think about it. There were probably not prison bars or shackles or anything of the like. Their slavery may have resembled more of an indentured servant or perhaps an economic enslavement. They could not leave, of course, but not because they were held but because they were bound. It was just as bad and in some cases, it is harder to claim release.


So God screams, “Let my people go.” The truth is, maybe God wasn’t worried about the economic enslavement at all. Because, you see, they had been there awhile, a couple of generations if you’re counting. And as generations go on, we forget, we forget who we are. It would have been so incredibly easy to lapse into the Egyptian society. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it would have been easier to do just that. But it wasn’t who they were. Somehow, I think God’s concern was not that they were economically enslaved but that they had forgotten who they were.  In God’s vision, the wilderness, the place where darkness loomed, was better than the place of safety that enslaved the people.


SO, does this sound familiar?  We are not enslaved.  We are, however, bound.  We are bound by our lifestyle, by what our life expects us to be.  We are bound by the expectations of others.  We are bound by our plans for what our life holds.  We are bound by what we think we are supposed to be in this world.  We, too, have forgotten who we are.  And, just as God did so long ago, the Divine screams into the night, “Let my people go.”  We are not enslaved in the usual sense.  There are no prison bars and no shackles.  But we are enslaved.  This season of Lent is God’s time, God’s time to scream “let my people go,” and be heard.  And even the wilderness is better than what we have.


The wilderness is calling.  The place where we are not bound, where we can finally learn to be free, where  danger meets us and we know that rather turn to the ones who enslave  us, who offer no help in the wilderness, we will finally look to God.  Let us be the ones who finally, once and for all, know that we are offered freedom, freedom, mostly, not from whom holds us, but from the one who we are not.  Let us be the people who, finally, go and be the one that we are meant to be.


I think most of the spiritual life is really a matter of relaxing — letting go, ceasing to cling, ceasing to insist on our own way, ceasing to tense ourselves up for this or against that. (Beatrice Bruteau)


FOR TODAY:  In what ways are you enslaved?  What would it mean to be let go?  God is waiting to do that.


Grace and Peace,