The whole notion of Lent being a parallel in some way to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness has always captured my imagination. We often talk about Lent as a time of deprivation. You can almost hear the undertone of dread thrumming beneath it. It is a time to give things up, right? (I’ve learned that the only thing worse than trying to sell Girl Scout cookies on January 2nd is delivering them on the first day of Lent!) So it seems that this time spent in the wilderness is supposed to be accompanied by a penitent (somber and morose) spirit, right?
But I have to admit that, having an introverted temperament, spending 40 days in the wilderness often sounds really good to me. It is the 40 days spent in constant contact with the clashing, clanging crowds that are what might tempt me to jump off of the top of the temple.
So there, my first confession of Lent.
In a culture that can’t seem to get enough of “community,” I sometimes feel overwhelmed. And in Lent, I feel a bit like Br’er Rabbit screaming, “Oh please don’t throw me out into the wilderness!” And here I am, chuckling under my breath the whole time, knowing the wilderness is right where I am most at home. I would even consider emulating John the Baptist’s wilder habits, wearing itchy camel hair clothing, and making meals of honey-dipped insects just to get a couple of hours of peace and quiet while the sun was still somewhere above the horizon. ( As a homeschooling mom, I’m not sure I have even gone to the restroom uninterrupted since sometime in 2008!)
I remember first learning about the contemplative traditions. I have a special affinity for the Desert Fathers and Mothers with their quiet and continuous cycle of work and prayer and for Julian of Norwich with her poetic visions of a God who holds the whole world, like a hazelnut, cradled in the palm of one hand. Julian’s mantra of “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” helps to keep me grounded on the busiest of my days.
I think, sometimes, that with our American religious cultural infatuation with “community” we may be ignoring a whole tradition, a whole way of being Christian. Lent seems to help us remember that the Communion of Saints plays by different rules than a pop-culture defined version of community.
Contemplation for Saint Anthony and Saint Julian was an extreme art to say the least. But they both contributed to life in their contemporary communities. And they both gave us writings that continue to inspire. The oldest known writing in English by a woman is Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love!
It is that constant cycle of reflection and action and reflection that allows us to deliberately live out our own calling in the world. And in the wilderness, we are able to confront our fears, our temptations, our joys, our desires, our sorrows, and all the other blessed messiness of life. In the wilderness, we can take the time we need, as much or as little as we need, to reflect, to be still and to know the presence of God in the midst of it all.
John’s time in the wilderness (and that of Jesus, too) was a time of preparation, preparation for action, for ministry, for life, for the joys and the pains and the challenges that were to come.
Today, I am thankful for this time in the wilderness.