With No Time to Prepare

Scripture Passage:  Mark 1: 9-15 (Lent 1B)

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 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. 14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus was driven out into the wilderness.  The Markan passage says that it happened immediately.  (Actually, the Gospel writer we call Mark liked things to happen “immediately”.  Read the whole thing in one sitting and you’ll see what I mean.)  So, Jesus had no time to pack, no time to prepare.  There was no family lunch after the baptism.  First he gets baptized and the Spirit descends upon him.  He is claimed by the Spirit.  And then the same Spirit that claims him somehow compels him to go out into the wilderness alone–no supplies, no map, no compass, no cell phone with that neat little GPS app–immediately.  Driven out into the wilderness…You know, I used to think that I understood this wilderness thing.  I used to picture Jesus going out into the wilderness, into the trees, into nature, to pray and commune with God.  Perhaps my idea of a wilderness was somewhat skewed by visions of thick East Texas pine trees or perhaps the clammy sensation of the Costa Rican rainforest.  After all, nature is always a great place to become closer to God.

And then I saw the Judean wilderness, the same wilderness into which Jesus was driven by the Spirit.  I stood there on that mountain with a view of winds and sands and nothingness, the true depiction of forsakenness and despair.  And, standing there, I thought about this image of Jesus going out into the wilderness.  On purpose?  He went on purpose?  This is not a wilderness for the faint of heart and certainly not for one with such a faulty sense of direction as I seem to have.  This wilderness has no trees, no real markings of any kind.  The faint pathways change as the winds blow the sands wherever they want.  Even if one began this wilderness journey with some faint sense of where he or she was headed, the pathway would move in an instant and the traveler would be stranded, vulnerable, with no real sense of direction at all.

So into this vulnerable state, Jesus was driven.  If you read the passage, the Spirit claimed him at his baptism and then drove him into a journey that had no obvious pathway at all.  The mere thought of it terrifies us.  After all, don’t we do everything we can do to avoid the wilderness, to avoid a loss of control, a loss of our sense of direction, a loss of the knowledge of where we are and where we are going. But last I checked, the same Spirit supposedly descended on me as descended on Jesus.  So am I to assume that that Spirit is now driving me into the wilderness?  As one who was also baptized, who also had this same Spirit, am I being compelled to go beyond what I know?  But, I will tell you, I did not plan for the wilderness.  I do not have everything I need.  I need to pack.  I need to prepare.  (I probably need new shoes!)  And so I wait.  But that baptism thing keeps tugging at us.  You know, it’s not really meant to be a membership ritual.  It is meant, rather, to be the driving force in our lives.  It is the thing that drives us into the wilderness–if only we will go.

Contrary to the way most of us live our lives, faith is not certainty or knowledge.  It is not, I’m afraid, a sure and unquestioning sense of where one is going, even, for us seemingly progressive theologians (because we are ALL theologians!), in a “big picture” way.  It is not about being saved from something.  Faith is not about learning or being shown the way.  We are not given a map.  It’s just not that clear.  In fact, it’s downright murky, almost like sand in the air.  No, I think that faith is about entering The Way, being driven into the wilderness, where one is vulnerable, unprepared, and usually scared to death.  And in that death, in that yielding, in that realization that we’re not really sure where it is we’re supposed to go, we encounter God.  And then in the next instant, the winds will blow the path away and, once again, we are in darkness until we realize that God is still there, not pointing to show us, but walking with us.

Every Lenten season we read of the wilderness into which Jesus was driven.  It is the affirmation that Jesus was not a superhero or a star of Survivor.  Rather, Jesus was driven into the deepest depths of human frailty and vulnerability and, unsure of where to go, found God.  Wandering the wilderness is not about finding your way but rather being open and vulnerable enough that The Way will find you.  So in what way do you need to let yourself be vulnerable?  In what way do you need to wander in the wilderness?

The promised land lies on the other side of a wilderness.  (Havelock Ellis)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Sheltered in the Wilderness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScripture Text: 1 Samuel 23: 14-17

14David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul sought him every day, but the Lord did not give him into his hand. 15David was in the Wilderness of Ziph at Horesh when he learned that Saul had come out to seek his life. 16Saul’s son Jonathan set out and came to David at Horesh; there he strengthened his hand through the Lord. 17He said to him, “Do not be afraid; for the hand of my father Saul shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be second to you; my father Saul also knows that this is so.”

David is one that spends a lot of time in the wilderness according to the Scriptures. He seems to always have issues. (You think?) Here, he is running, running for his very life. He knows that Saul is coming after him. So, he runs into the “strongholds of the wilderness”. Isn’t that interesting that this place that holds such danger, such peril, such forsakenness, is, here, a place of protection? David stays there, hidden away, as the wilderness surrounds him and holds him. I suppose given the alternative (you know, like when a really angry man with an army is chasing you), the wilderness appears to be a very attractive place. And it becomes easy to enter its wilds and close ourselves off to the world.

 

You know, with all this talk about wilderness, it would be easy for us to think that the wilderness is a place for us to stay. Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I would like nothing better than to close myself off and not have to deal with my part of the world. Sometimes, I would love to just stay in my room for days on end and write. But even though God calls us into the wilderness in certain seasons of our lives, the wilderness is not meant to be home. The wilderness is not a place where we put down stakes and plant roots. The wilderness is not a home; it is an encounter. It is the place that pushes us. If a wilderness begins to offer us solace, we have, sadly, tamed its wilds.

 

I’ve thought again about those early Desert Mothers and Fathers, who spent the better part of a lifetime wandering in the wilderness, communing with God, and writing the tales. But they did not live in the wilderness as a home; they did not tame it enough that they could close themselves off. Imagine them moving in a way that their feet never really touched the ground. Maybe that’s the operative word…moving.

 

When you think about it, the Bible is a story of movement. God creates life and just as quickly pushes it into the wilds. The creatures wander for a time and then they begin to plant their feet and build walls and boundaries (and dress themselves). So God, with loving hands, pushes them farther out into the world. They wander and then they begin building. The Bible is a story of the rhythms of God driving us into the world and our building of walls and boundaries. It happens over and over and over again. It is no different here. David is driven into the wilderness and then decides, “you know, I’ll stay awhile and let it offer me solace and protection”. It did not last long.

 

Lent, like the wilderness, is not meant to be our home; it is meant to be our way of life. Because when we wander in the wilderness, we are free, we are vulnerable. University of Houston’s Dr. Brene’ Brown tells us that connection begins by allowing ourselves to be seen; in other words, being vulnerable, allowing ourselves to be seen, leaves us open to encounter. If we quit wandering and sit down and plant our feet and build a home that is not meant to be, that is not ours, we close ourselves off to encounter. We close ourselves off to God. So, if you feel the need to stay where you are, to build a home, to wall yourselves off, at least an opening so you can see the sun and breathe the air and know that God is always there.

 

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” (Madeleine L’Engle)

 

FOR TODAY: Stop. Quit building your shelter. Feel the sun; breathe the air; encounter God.  Let yourself be seen.

(And you can hear Brene’ Brown’s TED TALK, “The Power of Vulnerability” at

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=brene+brown+vulnerability+youtube&FORM=VIRE1#view=detail&mid=A6AD2CE4CD973EA9B668A6AD2CE4CD973EA9B668)

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli