Bishop Mariann’s reflection may be found in Living Well Through Lent 2020, a collection of daily meditations published by Living Compass. Free copies are available at the diocesan office.
After Jesus was baptized, he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
The wilderness is a place of trial and vulnerability. It wasn’t an easy place for Jesus; and it isn’t an easy place for us, whenever we find ourselves in a wilderness of our own.
Sometimes we go to the wilderness of our own accord, because we know that it’s time to make a change. So we call the doctor and schedule a physical, reach out to a relative we haven’t spoken to in years, or pray for the grace to forgive ourselves for something we’ve done.
Other times the wilderness comes to us, without warning. The telephone rings and suddenly life as we’ve known it is over. I don’t believe that God causes those unwelcome wildernesses to appear, but I know that God is there to see us through.
Through is an important concept when it comes to the wilderness, for it is not our final destination. We travel through the wilderness on our way to somewhere else. But before we leave, the wilderness has a pearl of great price to impart.
The first wilderness temptation is to try and get out as quickly as we can. It’s an understandable response, given our discomfort, but it guarantees that we will learn nothing from our experience. We leave the wilderness unscathed and revert to old patterns of life.
The second wilderness temptation, however, is to stay too long. In particular, after an experience of grief or trauma, the wilderness can become a familiar place, where little is required of us. Yet invariably, there comes a moment of choice, when we must decide to leave the wilderness, even when we don’t feel ready for life on the other side.
Wilderness is the place of transformation. We need to stay long enough to allow it to change us, or to accept the change that is thrust upon us. However we get there, we go to the wilderness to learn what we must learn and accept what we must accept. Then it’s time to move on.
In the book I’m reading this Lent, Henri Nouwen makes the pointed observation that “to follow Jesus” means that we do the walking.
We are the ones doing the talking, living life, getting involved. . . followers of Jesus are people who live real human lives. The work of life does not come easier to them because they are disciples. . . Following Jesus means walking in his path, taking steps behind the One who shows us the way in our dark, broken, painful world.
Jesus learned a lot about himself in the wilderness, and we learn a lot about him. What we learn is that Jesus will always put God’s will first. He will never use his power to overwhelm or bully us. Ours is a Savior who knows our vulnerabilities because he took them on himself. He knows our wilderness, has been there himself. And he offers the strength that comes through vulnerability, power as we make our way through the wilderness to transformation that’s promised us on the other side.