Wilderness spirituality (19-02-21)
Bible Readings: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’ (Matthew. 1 - 3)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil… Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. (Luke 4. 1 - 2, 14)
We are eight weeks into our third lockdown, and now we are also into the season of Lent, a powerful and potentially depressing combination. We often think of Lent as primarily a period of self-denial, when we give up chocolate and alcohol and other things we enjoy, in order to focus and reflect on the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. However, the wilderness is so much more than a place of abstinence.
In the early centuries AD, there were considerable numbers of Christian hermits and monks who withdrew to live a life of prayer in the desert. Known as the Desert Fathers, they paved the way for subsequent monastic movements. Above all else, their withdrawal from society was driven by a longing for God. This was a strategic withdrawal from the church and the world, but not a separation as such. It was a place to wrestle in prayer for the church and the world, being ‘of the world’ but not in it.
Wilderness is a place of exposure, a tough place where we leave behind our normal securities. It is a place of simplicity with little room for non-essentials or luxuries. It is a place of waiting. Nothing happens in a hurry in the desert, and it weans us off our addiction to the instant. There is a story of a desert father who was visited by three men who wanted to talk to him. He led them to a nearby cave and showed them hospitality. He then left them for the next three years before asking them what they wanted! Thus, wilderness is also a place of solitude, often accompanied by silence and tears, as our deep places are opened up to God for healing and transformation. And finally, wilderness is a place of vigil, watching for the coming of Christ, whilst immersed in reading Scripture, singing psalms, and prayer.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus spent time in the wilderness. For John, it was a time of preparing others for the coming of Jesus, calling for their repentance. For Jesus, it was a time of preparation for his earthly ministry and work of salvation, prompted by the Holy Spirit. These wilderness experiences were no accident, but all part of God’s plan.
So what about us? As we spend time in the wilderness of the third lockdown during the six weeks of Lent, what is the Holy Spirit doing in our lives? What is the Holy Spirit preparing us for? And what is our role in the lives of others at this time?
You lead us though the wilderness and give us grace for trials and tests. May the Holy Spirit show the way and, in our weakness, teach us how to pray. Amen.
You lead us through the wilderness by Sam Hargreaves