A Much-Needed Wilderness

ivan-nikolaevich-kramskoy-christ-in-the-desert1Scripture Text:  Luke 4: 1-2

 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.

 

Yes, as a matter of fact, this IS the third time we’ve heard this account as part of our wilderness journey. But we haven’t heard it from the same Gospel-writer.  All three of the synoptic Gospels include the account of Jesus being led into the wilderness following his Baptism. It’s one of the few passages that was not only included by each writer, but actually was included within pretty much the same sequence in the happenings of Jesus’ life. There doesn’t seem to be any need on the part of any of the writers to “rearrange” things to further the focus that the writer was trying to impart. It’s just included. It’s part of the story. Apparently, each Gospel account recognizes this as, for want of a better word, a much-needed wilderness.

 

So have you ever thought of the wilderness as something that we NEED? We probably spend more time trying our very best to avoid it or, if it can’t be avoided, to at least hurry to the end, trying to cram as much as we can into it, but with the goal to get to the end as soon as possible so that we can go back to normal, go back to our lives. But Jesus was led into the wilderness and stayed for forty days. He had just been baptized. According to the Scriptures, John the Baptist had just pointed to who he was and what his life meant. God had proclaimed him the “Beloved”, and had voiced what pleasure the Divine took in him. He was set to go, set to begin his ministry. Standing there on the banks of the Jordan, he was ready to begin. And he did. He began with what was apparently a much-needed wilderness.

 

So for forty days, Jesus wandered in the wilderness. Sure, he was tempted to control it, tempted to overpower it, tempted to make it his. He was probably tempted to go home, although none of the Gospel-writers wrote that one down. But he didn’t. He walked the wilderness. He prayed, he looked at himself, he talked to God. My guess is that he probably argued with and questioned God a bit. (Well, maybe that’s what I would have done!) The wilderness was not any easier for Jesus than it is for us. But Jesus knew that he had to embrace the time, that preparing himself for the years to come, for the tiresome tasks of serving others, for the draining tasks of healing and teaching, for the frustrating tasks of calling others who did not always stay on the path, for the disheartening tasks of rejection and difficulty and questions, and, finally, finally, for the implausible task of walking to the Cross, had to be done in this wilderness. This wilderness would give him what he needed and he knew it. It was the place where he had to let go of his own plans and his own preconceptions of what his life would hold. It was the place where he had to take a good hard luck at himself, at the ways that he stood in the way of his own life. It was the place where he would know, finally know, that he WAS God’s Beloved with whom God was well pleased and that God would never forsake him. It was the place that, finally, Jesus knew who he was and what he was called to do.

 

We need the wilderness experience just as badly. It’s not a place where we prove our love to God or where we show how strong or how spiritual or how faithful we are. It is the place where we finally get out of ourselves, out of our routines, off the path that we have so carefully carved out for our lives, and, finally, without being able to see where we are going, we know that we are on the right path. It is the place where we can come to know who we are and what we are called to do.   Now we are ready to begin. And we return from the wilderness as a different one, as one who knows ourself as God’s Beloved, with whom God is well pleased.  We will return famished and ready to fill ourselves with God.

 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work. And when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. (Wendell Berry)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look around you.  Quit trying to figure a way out.  Just walk through the wilderness and see what God has to show you.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Lessons From the Desert Fathers

 

 

The Judean Wilderness, February, 2010
The Judean Wilderness, February, 2010

Scripture Text:  Mark 1: 10-13

10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Jesus was baptized by John and then the version of the Gospel by the writer we know as Mark has immediately being driven into the wilderness.  Still wet with the waters of life, Jesus began his 40-day quest filled with danger, temptation, and probably questions about his own identity and the ministry that would come.  We struggle with this.  We often get hung up on the whole temptation thing, trying to come up with reasons why Jesus, of all people, would have been tempted.  But the writer of this version of the account doesn’t offer more than a mere mention of that.  Instead, we have Jesus being driven out into the wilderness and then the story picks up a few sentences later.  You see, no one followed Jesus out in the desert to get the first hand account.  He was on his own, alone in the wilderness.

We’re not big fans of wildernesses.  In fact, we try to do everything we can to avoid them, or at least find one that has cellular reception and free WIFI available.  And yet, Jesus was driven into the wilderness, as if he had no choice.  Jesus was forced to spend 40 days in what is essentially a wasteland.  The wilderness was waiting for him, offering something that the crowds and the towns and even the synagogue could not.  The wilderness, the place that no one owns, the place that no one has tamed, the place that no one really wants to beat, the place that will never become something that it is not offers just that–itself.  Jesus is not the first to wander in the wilderness and he was not the last.  A few centuries after this, orders of monks in Northern Africa began to make their way into the desert, into the wilderness to experience God’s Presence unhindered by what humans have attempted to create, unhindered by expectations and schedules.  It was the place where they went to renew their prayer life, to begin again.  There were those, like Jesus, that returned to their lives but with new eyes and new hearts.  There were also though that chose to stay , even though they would remain visitors in a place that was not theirs.  In the wilderness, nothing exists but you and God, and, uninterrupted and unhindered, God can create you yet again.

Our wildernesses come in all forms.  Some are self-imposed and others are those to which we are driven at a time that we have no control over where we are going.  The wilderness is hard and dangerous and uncomfortable.  Some are filled with grief and despair.  Others are wrought with a feeling that we will never get out.  Sometimes the wilderness seems unforgiving, as if it’s only focus is to push us into vulnerability, to push us into temptation.  But the lesson that we learn from the wilderness is that, when everything else is gone, when the clouds make us unable to see the way out, when we feel that it will never end, God is there.  And we have become someone new.

Most of us will not drop out of society and make our way to the wilderness.  Even Jesus returned to Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel.  But in this season that remembers Jesus’ time in the wilderness, we can learn what it means to awaken to God’s Presence, to be mindful of this Presence that is always and forever with us, to, day by day, strip those things away that have our attention.  We can learn what it means to enter an intentional wilderness, a place and a time where God is all we have. These forty days are our emptying time—the time when we strip all of our preconceptions away and meet God where God is—right there with us.  We do not walk this road alone.  God is always there.  And when we are tempted to once again take control, God will still be there.  Lent is the time when we allow God to work on us that we might burst forth on Easter morning in radiant bloom.

We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only the wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.  We can never have enough of nature.  We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. (Henry David Thoreau)

FOR TODAY:  Think of what it would mean to enter an intentional wilderness this Lent, to, day by day strip all those things away that have your attention until all that is left is God, who is recreating you even now.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli