One set of footprints (26-02-21)
A Bible Reading: Matthew 28. 16 - 20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
I want to continue this week with my reflections on Wilderness Spirituality, but this is the more personal story of my own experience of wilderness after our daughter Anna died seven years ago.
There is no doubt that in the face of loss our faith is tested, often to its limits. God suddenly seems to have abandoned us in a wilderness place where we become disorientated by the unfamiliar emotional landscape. For me, I felt as if I was walking along a never-ending beach with dense forest one side and the sea the other. When I looked back, there was only one set of footprints, my own. God was not carrying me (as he does in the well known ‘Footprints’ poem). In fact, God was nowhere to be seen, although I had a faint suspicion that God was present at a distance, watching me to see what I would do. A bit like a parent, watching an argument between siblings unbeknown to them, through a chink in the door to make sure that they resolved it themselves without resorting to violence!
For many weeks, I wandered along, feeling isolated and disorientated. This was a lonely place for wrestling with fears and doubts, searching for answers to deep questions of faith and trust. I discovered that God was in no rush. He was simply waiting, allowing my faith to deepen and grow in that wilderness place as I faced the pain and the doubts, until the moment came, when I turned round and started walking back towards the God who had never really left.
After the resurrection, we find the disciples with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. They too have been on a emotional rollercoaster, as they have watched their friend and teacher suffer a horrific execution by crucifixion. They have had to deal emotionally with his death and burial. Then they have witnessed the risen Christ, and he has walked among them again in his risen body for many days. They have continued to worship him, and yet, still some doubted. And now, there will be a new experience of loss as Jesus is taken up into heaven to return to his Father. This is the story of Holy Week and Easter through to the Ascension.
Jesus does not rebuke them for their doubts. In this strange and disorientating place, they will meet with God afresh. Jesus gives them a commission to go and to share their experiences and in doing so to make disciples of others. His final words are ones of comfort and reassurance.
Even in the wilderness places in life, may we hear those words of Jesus afresh: I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Loving God, when I feel full of fear and doubt and all alone,
may I know your presence ever with me.
Standing on this mountain top.