In this blog I will reflect upon the wildernesses I have encountered during Lent, and beyond. These will be literal, metaphorical, and emotional wildernesses.
First up will be my journey across the waters to Calais where I will work in Help Refugee’s aid warehouse with a group from the centre for Reconciliation and Peace. The wilderness of Calais’ refugees is literal: those living in the forests and wastelands of Calais are far from home; have not been welcomed into a safe sanctuary; are far from comforts; and food/shelter are scarce. This is almost the definition of wilderness. There will be other kinds of wildernesses there, too, which I can only begin to imagine.
I will document other wildernesses I encounter during Lent, and reflect on the significance of these wild places for how we understand God, ourselves, and each other.
Jesus (and us) in the wilderness…
Jesus entered the wilderness for 40 days before he began his earthly ministry. There he was tempted by the devil to perform acts which would distance him from God. He refused to be tempted; he re-affirmed for the benefit of ‘the devil’, and perhaps to reassure himself, that the word of God is sustaining; that we are only to worship God, not the devil, money, personal power, or glory; that we do not need to manipulate God to be sure of God’s love.
In the wildernesses of our lives the things which might usually sustain and nourish us are far away. In these moments we can find ourselves endangered by temptation to sustain ourselves by all means necessary, even when it means supporting death-dealing forces (like global capitalism, violence, or oppression). Sometimes we stop trusting in the love which has surrounded us from birth (God’s love), and seek to (unconsciously) test out God’s love; sometimes we are insecure, and have a poverty-mindset when it comes to love. Incidentally, love is not lacking in consciousness of some of these refugees living in the wilderness of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camp:
Wildernesses are places where we face down our personal demons, and come face to face with things which could cause us to distances ourselves from God, or from love. Specific temptations are different for each person. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness give us a glimpse of Jesus’ potential downfalls; the places in his heart where he was most at risk of separating himself from God. This is a Jesus many of us can relate to: in discourse with ‘the devil’ in our ear, and grappling to stay true to God’s call of love.
Ultimately, Jesus does not give in to the devil in his ear. But the process is an important one. Jesus has to face his demons, honestly, and at length, before he can enter his ministry with integrity, strength, and a secure trust in God. We can learn from this by knowing what our wildernesses look like, being mindful of when we are entering them, and knowing our personal demons — so that we can face down our demons before serving God, or others. We don’t have to be perfect, but we do need to be aware when are most in danger of distancing ourselves from God, so we don’t inadvertently serve injustice and hatred, instead of justice and peace.
What do your wildernesses look/feel like? What calls you away from God, love, or social justice?