Sunday, February 21, 2021

Into the Desert

Lent is the season of the desert.  Every morning in the Office of Readings  through most of Lent, we read a passage from the Book of Exodus which centers around Israel’s years in the desert as they traveled from slavery to the Promised Land. On the First Sunday of Lent, we read about Jesus’ venture into that place of presence and memory for God’s people to confront the Voice that derails us from our own spiritual journey to the Promised Land.

 For the people of Israel and for us, the desert is a stark place of revelation.  It offers no entertainments.  It offers no comforts.  It offers no place to hide.  In the desert we are brought face-to-face with life.  And death.  And, hardest of all, ourselves.

 In the desert, the people of Israel found themselves freed from slavery but shackled by their own fears, their own insufficiencies, their own pettiness.  The fears were justified:  inexperienced nomads in that harsh landscape really did find their own survival plunged into uncertainty. Where were they going?  When would they get there? What would they eat when their unleavened bread ran out?  What would they drink?  How would they provide for families and flocks?  And who was this God who had brought them here—why?  Their insufficiencies were real.  There were no paying jobs in the desert, not even the job of slavery which actually did provide them with a place to live and some sort of sustenance.  They had no maps.  They were strangers in this unfamiliar landscape. They knew nothing about surviving this harsh climate.  They had to rely totally on this God of their ancestors who had sunk into the oblivion of forgetfulness over those 400 years in Egypt.  And on Moses, who suddenly seemed the cause of all their problems.  Their pettiness, their selfishness, their spirit of complaint, however, had all traveled with them since they left home in Egypt.  The food wasn’t right. The drink wasn’t satisfactory.  They had nothing to do beyond surviving during those long stops along the way.  They were ungrateful.  They were quarrelsome. They were low on courage.   And there was no way out but back. But that road was closed.  As we take in the picture, we see that they had no entertainments.  They had no comforts.  They had no place to hide.  And they didn’t have any Lent to motivate them to leave some of those consolations behind. 

In the desert, Jesus sought none of them.  He came face-to-face with the Tempter. who had been at work undoing God’s beloved human beings from the start.  He was brought face-to-face with his own life and his own truth: if you are the Son of God, the Tempter said again and again, here is what you should do.  And Jesus wouldn’t do it.  He was brought face-to-face with his own death when the Tempter offered him a quick escape.  And he wouldn’t accept that escape, either. He was brought face-to-face with the heart of the struggle ahead.  And he did not refuse it.

 The desert people of God  look back at us from the mirror every morning.  Jesus does too—we are his Body.  But his is the harder  act to follow.

 There is one certainty about the Lenten desert he calls us into.  We will come face-to-face with our own reality as heirs to God’s people and as members of Christ and as  sinful people of hope somewhere between those truths.  And we will come face-to-face with God.  In fact, St. Benedict says we must:  he urges us to seek God always and everywhere, even in the desert.  Perhaps especially in the desert, where our need is more apparent.  And Jesus promises: seek and you will find.

 Blessed travels!   

 Copyright Abbey of St. Walburga


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