Friday, February 15, 2013

The...New...Desert...???

I have now entered into my 50th Lenten journey (as a priest), that is to one way of thinking. To another, I am journeying into my FIRST Lenten experience. I have come to believe that all of past experiences lay the foundation for how I see and understand the present. All that has happened, both the good or what I viewed as bad, have been woven into who I am right now. This is a continuous, dynamic process. A process we have to admit to, and embrace, even when we do not know the details. The Spirit is always at work, forming us, and molding us in the contemporary, living presence of Jesus Christ. I have come to believe ,and not without serious difficulty, the scripture promises, "God makes ALL things work together for good ..for those who believe". Each Lent, I am challenged not only to meet the unacceptable, and as yet undeveloped parts of me, but to embrace them in a loving embrace. To use that great disconcerting challenge of St.Francis, "We are to kiss the leper within". In order to kiss the leper within we must encounter the "leper within". Is this easy? On the contrary, it is a very, very, fear-full, awe-full, yet wonder-full experience. An experience I do not consciously create, but a challenge that somehow seems to surface on its own. It brings home that awe-full reality that I am definitely a spiritual being immersed in the human experience. As I move on in years, well let me be honest, as I am getting older, those words of Metz, "We are born human, and we spend our whole lives discovering what human means" are becoming more and more both a comfort and a challenge. The desert journey of Lent brings me face to face with a newness. Some of this "newness", I hurry to embrace. There is a "newness" I would prefer to not only deny, but hide from. Then the great guides of the past warns that without the acceptance, the loving embrace, there will be no reconciliation, and as a result, no transforming action. Here I have to keep before me the image of the rebellious son being embraced by his prodigal father. In that moving, compassionate encounter, the rebellious one is welcomed home. He is welcomed back to the place where he can again bask in the reality of him being the beloved son (daughter). This is the choice only you and I can make. It is our own personal choice. A choice that we make within the limitations the human condition places on us. There has not been enough information been given on all those outside forces that prevent us from performing healthy human acts. (All of those last words are the focus of moral theology.) We find it so, so easy to condemn, without any effort made to understand. Without understanding there is no real forgiveness, only condemnation, and shaming. We are now sliding down the greased slope to self destruction. In the Gospel of Mark we read that on His desert journey Jesus encountered wild beasts. He also encountered the ministering of angels. As we make the journey of the heart into the heart of the desert within we need to keep before us written by a Greek Saint, “The heart is only a small vessel yet dragons are there and lions; there are poisonous and all the treasures of evil, there are rough and uneven roads, there are precipices ; there too, are God and the angels; life is there and the kingdom is there, there too is light...and treasures of grace. In it is death, in it is life. All things lie within that. Little space. The only journey is the one within. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you ". (Rilke) On this awe-full, and at times terrifying, Lenten desert journey, we will meet, and sometimes have an encounter with the wild beats that prowl within us. We are also guaranteed the ministering of angels who are the manifestation of a caring , compassionate, prodigal Father/Mother God. "Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.” We are also guaranteed that we will never, that is NEVER, be tested beyond our strength. Each time I hike the desert trails it is always for the first time. It is always new. I have had some health challenges of late so I was not able to hike. When I resumed, the familiar trails were somewhat the same, yet they were different. We have some real great storms here in the deserts of Arizona. Those rains, led to runoffs that have brought about change. There have been changes within which raises the questions of, “what is doable for me right not?”. I will have to journey into that answer through the action of hiking. The limitations of age is a "desert experience" all on its own. There are then lessons to be learned, realities that will have to be, not liked, but accepted. Acceptance is a pain-full process. It involves a death to the ego, and its expectations. The desert is offering me challenges, it is also being the source of revelation. Revelations that will have a deeper meaning when I seek out The Presence of The Good Shepherd who is waiting for me. That revelation will come not in the places, people, or events I have dared to preordain. His presence will be revealed in those places He/She chooses. God does have a great sense of humor, even in the desert He can bring a smile to the face. Other times even a belly laugh, as we look back at how little plans and planning are blown to the place we are working to avoid. So the desert is always telling a different story. Look at many books have been written on, and about the desert. Louis L’Amour, one of my very favorite authors, has written many desert stories. Each with new heroes and heroines, scoundrels and villains. We each have a desert story to write. We will have a hero, that is you and I. You are the hero of your own story. There will also be scoundrels, ruffians and shady characters. All these are part of who we are. Lent provides with the opportunity to allow all of the previous realities to become real. For what purpose? To kill, destroy, fix, no, rather to become reconciled with. Reconciliation is a process, not an event. The process begins with confession. Confessing my need to encountered The Prodigal Father-God in the parts of me I hate, recoil from the most. Confession in the event that begins the process of reconciliation, which leads to a deeper union with ourselves, one another, and with the Living God of Jesus, who became The Christ.