First Sunday of Lent Reflection
Lent is a time to gain new strength, to free ourselves of our paranoia, our illusions and fears. This is why we follow Jesus on a journey into the wilderness, away from the noise and superficiality, to empty ourselves of our everyday concerns and sufficiency, to become naked and hungry.
The Word of God is here, but is also over there, everywhere. God’s blueprint for creation within time and space is already completed and fulfilled within eternity, yet is still to be accomplished within the experience of our times; already but not yet! God’s Word is contained within the single, shimmering drop of foam on the crest of the wave, yet also within the heaving oceans mass. God’s Word is contained within a single photon of light, yet it is also in the beam shimmering through the darkness. The Word of God booms through the continuing creation of the millions of galaxies in all the billions of years of time, yet also whispers to us in the single moment of silence that bleeds through time. This is the spoken Word of God, the Christ that is the transcendent contained within every atom of the universe.
This Word of God is the language of creation, music and poetry, That we express in our own feeble words and constrained historic languages. This is the reason why St Francis warned his followers not to go about the world contending about words… “When they go into the world, they shall not quarrel, nor contend with words, nor judge others… as becomes the servants of God and the followers of most holy poverty”. This is the holy poverty that saves us from imposing our will on the meaning of God’s Word.
When we cling to our little words and our little interpretations, we cling to our own understanding limited by the enclosure of our experience within time and space. It is as vain as clinging to love that must always give itself away to another; the harder we cling the faster it slips through our fingers. The truth of love like the heady scent of the Rose can only ever dimly be described in our words, seen as in an imperfect mirror. It is always on the self-emptying process of letting go of our control of a moment in time; letting go of our imposed interpretation, that God speaks to us. The flow between speaking and listening leads us into contemplation of Holy Scripture that resonates with all that is true, beautiful and good; a love letter that consoles and upholds us through the temptations that we will face.
Our Temptation in the desert
The great temptation of the desert experience is to grasp for ourselves equality with God; the right to judge who and what is holy and who and what is profane. Out of this great temptation has flowed the most terrible events of our history. Deeming our particular species, our culture, our race, our sexuality, our religion and our beliefs as superior to others and to the rest of God’s creation. Those who do not follow our ‘truth’ are branded as ‘unholy heretics’ and their books burned to destroy their words.Those who do not follow our ‘truth’ are branded as ‘unholy heretics’ and their books burned to destroy their words.
As followers of Christ we are called to pray for those defame Holy Scripture and Jesus the Christ as being without authority or relevance. Even God’s Word within Scripture can be captured and used to enslave, to belittle and to corrupt. But perhaps the greatest temptation that we may face is the presumption that we are called to defend God and to defend our notion of God’s will and God’s Holy Word.
God’s Word affects everything that is God’s will as it has done from the first moment of speaking time and space into existence and as it will continue to do until the consummation of that time and space.
Our so-called defence belittles and mocks God and the work of the Holy Spirit as we appropriate to ourselves the power and glory of God. This is where we find the real heresy and mockery of God that would seek to destroy God’s creation, to torture, burn, bomb and dismember their brothers and sisters using God’s Word is the banner of our own righteousness.
Retreating to the solitude of the desert means that we are stuck with ourselves. In the tradition of Moses and Jesus, the desert fathers and the desert mothers who wandered into the desert entered a wild, fierce, unknown place where they would encounter both “demons” and “angels”; their own shadowy selves which contained both good and evil, both gold and lead. These men and women refused to deceive themselves by imagining that retreat to a desert meant the guarantee of freedom from the world. The hardest world to leave, they knew, is the one within the heart.
Fleeing from “ourselves”
The desert mothers and fathers were not naive despisers of culture. What they fled from and there greatest fear was not the external world, but the world they carried inside themselves: an ego-centredness needing constant approval, driven by compulsive behaviour, frantic in its effort to attend to a self-image that always required mending. Ironically, in the fleeing they ran smack dab into the very thing they sought to avoid. As Pogo said in his comic strip, “We have met the enemy, and he is us”!
Our journey into the desert is not one that is accomplished by completing a to-do-list. Loss and grief are an intrinsic part of all aspects of our lives including our spiritual journey. ‘Life is change. We undergo change, loss and grief from birth onward. Every venture from home, every move, every job or status change every loss of a person, pet, belief, every illness, every shift in life such as marriage, divorce, or retirement, and every, kind of personal growth and change may be cause for grief. These are our ‘little deaths of life’. Grief is in fact like a neighbour who always lives next door, no matter where or how we live, no matter how we try to move away. Whether we want to or not, every one of us has to learn to let go, to move forward without someone or something we considered essential to our life.
It is only after we have met and embraced this death and grief and the loss of our investment in the assumptions about self, life and the world that we are capable of that spaciousness needed to take God’s hand. It is only after this death and grief, that we open ourselves to that vulnerability of leading a life of daily conversion centred on prayer, metanoia and contemplation. It is only then that we can hear God’s Word so as to live from ‘Gospel to life and life to Gospel’. It is only then that we will become heralds of the Gospel and instruments of transformation and peace in the world.