Lent and "the desert journey" are synonymous. There is a mystery revealed to us, ever new, as we trudge the days, and the weeks of Lent. This is a mystery that has been hidden from some, but revealed to those who have been blessed with the courage to leave comfort behind, and take the risk of entering upon a desert hike/journey. As the result of each lived moment we are new. The grace encountered in each now moment continues to perfect creation. We are all essential parts of this perfecting, while remaining always perfectly, imperfect creation. With our belief in this process of an ever new creation there comes a great challenge. We are challenged to leave behind the old. In more frightening words, we are challenged to let go, be emptied, of all that we are certain of, of all that we are secure in, so as to journey into the unknown. This is a great paradigm for our journey into The Unknown, and the Unknowable. All of this newness carries with it a tacit demand for a newness within us as well as we enter into, reflect on, and participate in The Paschal Mystery. Our Lent 2017 must result in a new way of seeing, that This Mystery we have been Baptized into is not only relevant but vitalizing, life giving source as we live out, "the here and now." We will have to reflect on, chew on, become familiar within a new way, "Now is the acceptable time, now is the time of salvation." Salvation comes to us as we allow the present moment to be all that it is, nothing more, nothing less. It is what it is, and it's essential is-ness is hidden and revealed in The Source of all reality. A moment then, is a sacrament in and through which all the necessary grace, all the strengthening love needed, is channeled into our being. On our part, we have to develop the trust and faith that IS happening, even though we do not have a clue as to how. Here is a good place for; " I believe Lord, help my unbelief/disbelief."
Why then are we invited, not compelled, by Mother Church to make this yearly journey in faith? Why is it that once is not enough? Well, we do not go to school for a day, and then decide not to return anymore. We have to return again and again so we can GROW in our understanding. This "growing" is a process, and as such, can be very boring, and uninviting, to say the least. How many children fight school, and all that it demands of them? We cannot see the future, so we, as children, have to trust that what we are asked to do will be beneficial to us in the long run. Over these many years I have developed a trust in what is taught in The School of Lent. I have not enjoyed that which I had to go through, but the end result is beyond what one could hope for. The School of Lent is situated in the desert. Not a very inviting place to live in. Hike in for a limited time, oh! yes, but to live in no. It is so dry desolate, harsh, and unforgiving of mistakes. At the beginning of desert trails, there are a number of warnings posted to draw attention to the dangers that may be encountered. Yet, how many are drawn to hike, again and again into a place that at first, seems to have nothing to offer? As a result of constant journeys, hikes, something happens. The reality behind the desert seems to reach out and embrace us in a very mysterious way. There is no way to explain it. Poets, artists, composers, photographers, have all made attempts, to capture and to convey the essence of the mystery of the desert. All of necessity have come up short. I suppose that is why we will continue to read poems, read books, listen to music, take photographs in the vain hope that in some way the mystery of the desert will be at last revealed. Part of me knows this will never happen. Yet there is another part that will never stop the seeking and the searching for that which I cannot here describe. I will, God willing, return again and again to the desert, so as to become more comfortable with the desert within me. A desert I just do not visit every now and then, but a desert in which "I live and move and have my being," My yearly Lenten desert experience somehow offers me that certain something which gives me the courage to journey ever deeper into the all that The Prophet Jesus, was sent to teach. As I look back on the many, many, desert journeys again, I shudder, as I have previously shuddered and recoiled from depths of nothingness one is brought to.
There is the great consolation knowing that in the desert we are not alone. In the desert we are NEVER alone. We read in the scriptures that Jesus was led, driven, into the desert by the Spirit. The desert awaited Him to be His place in which He will be tempted. In the desert, Jesus was tempted to deny His humanity. In overcoming temptation, Jesus reaffirmed His enfleshment in our humanity. Our humanity and the humanity of Jesus was the same broken, unredeemed humanity you and I take up each day. Our Gracious Creator God did not have one humanity for us, but a better and more improved one for His Beloved Son. We all share a oneness in having the same humanity. "Jesus is like unto us in everything, except sin, and He died because of His love for us sinners. Jesus was to use His humanity to full fill His appointed mission. Jesus said that He was to preach good news to the poor. He was to proclaim liberty to the captives. He was to proclaim recovery of sight, to the blind. He was to proclaim, let the captives go free. He was to proclaim an acceptable year to the Lord." (Luke 4. ) All of what He came to proclaim, and not only to proclaim but to actually physically do, I need. That need drives me out to the desert so I can with the mind, heart, and soul of my present being, hear for the first time, that which is from old, and speaks to me in the right now.
This Lent I must bring my new found poverty, which has been revealed through daily living, to Him who embraced all poverty. To make the necessary room for our poverty The Eternal Word emptied Himself of His Divinity so as to become incarnate in our broken humanity. He knew from His human experience what it meant to be hungry, to be betrayed, to be beaten, to lose so much as to be existentially broken, and abandoned. He was so grieved with the loss of His friend Lazarus, that He cried. Jesus also cried over Jerusalem, because of her rejection of Him. So go out to encounter anew, He Who is the bearer of good and Is The Good News. I come not to tell Him anything new, but in the owning, and in the telling I receive a new understanding. In the owning and revelation of my broken, wounded, hardened heart, which feels like a death, something mysterious happens. A new understanding will, in time be given. This gift in time, leads to a new heart. It will lead to a less hardened heart. A less judgmental heart. A more compassionate heart becomes more of a reality from the encounter with Compassion Itself. The old fears of not being "good enough," of not being worthy of love, slowly give way to a new and a more, healthy, freeing love relationship. The reality of being the beloved slowly brightens the horizon bring with it the promise of greater joy. Not happiness, joy is now a choice.
When I prepare to go on a desert hike, I have to make sure I have all that is necessary for physical survival. Water, food, sunscreen, proper clothing, map, telephone, hat, good boots, etc. are essential for safety. For the inner desert journey there must be a different mindset. I am going to encounter The Desert Shepherd, Who IS my only source of real food, and real drink. He is a living stream that I just do not visit, but I come to understand is the source of life giving water that springs eternal, deep within. I come so ashamed of my nakedness, only to be clothed with the dignity of being a fellow beloved son/daughter. I can now walk unashamed into a freedom hard to understand or explain. It can only be lived.