March 2010 – Rector’s Ruminations
“After his baptism, Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days…” (Luke 4: 1-2)
“Wilderness Wanderings” is the subject of this month’s Lenten reflection. Following the example of Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (I Kings 19:8), Jesus was led by the Spirit into the solitude of the Wilderness. For Jesus his forty days without food in the desert was a time of fasting, temptation, self-discovery and a time and place to discern his vocation as the Son of God and prepare for his ministry of reconciliation.
Lent is a season of the Church year when we are invited on Ash Wednesday to be led into the wilderness by the Spirit. The common place understandings of Lent as a forty-day season in preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday is marked by fasting, alms giving, penitence, prayer, self-examination, self denial, reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word. Like Jesus we are also invited to set aside a time for self-discovery and the opportunity to renew our vocation as sons and daughters of God and discern our gifts to further the ministry of Reconciliation.
However, we sometimes overlook the obvious in Luke’s Gospel, the place of discernment, temptation and testing – the desert, the wilderness.
For the people of Israel, the wilderness was a “great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions.” (Deut. 8:2). In short, a place to be feared and avoided. But the wilderness was also a place of revelation, transformation, searching and self-discovery. The wilderness is, and was, the complement, the other side of the “mountain top experience.” Mountain top experiences of transcendence and transfiguration drive us to transformation and preparation for ministry. We receive or experience the gift of the Holy Spirit on the mountaintop and it is this same spirit that leads us into the wilderness.
In addition to being a frightening, terrible and arid wasteland, the wilderness is a place of beauty, tranquility and peace, a quiet place that like Jesus we so often seek; a place apart- like Orcas Island – where we see the face of God in the beauty of creation – a place for recreation, for rest, for reconnecting with ourselves, one another, the creation and God.
A few weeks ago Liz and I visited friends in the Palm Desert area and as a part of our time there, we hiked in the Joshua Tree National Forest, and two days later, in the Hidden Palms Oasis preserve on the San Andreas Fault. I was struck by two things – first the experience of quiet and stillness and second, the sense of the arid beauty, quite the opposite of a wasteland. The desert – a sacred space and holy place that that beckons us to come for rest, clarity of vision and quiet serenity. An untamed landscape where we might not only be tested but where we might bear the still small voice of God.
I wish you a blessed wilderness wandering during this holy season of Lent.
By Bishop Craig B. Anderson