I am leary of the dessert

The Wide Wild World – Celeste, February 21, 2021

I invite you to find a quiet place of contemplation.  Make sure you’re cozy and comfortable.  Perhaps you are alone, or with a cat or a family member.  Wherever you are, take a moment to feel the ground beneath your feet/seat.  This ground is old.  Many animals and plants and ice ages have lived here before; and people too.  Take a moment to acknowledge the indiginous people of the place where you live.
Welcome to this reflection.
Opening Prayer
Spirit of All.  You are in all.  You are in the wilderness.
As I take this time to reflect on the turning season and to reflect on the wilderness,
please stir in me (gently enough) something helpful to my path.  
I acknowledge the Mystery that is at work in my life.  I offer gratitude for its Grace. Amen.
In the traditional church calendar this Sunday marks the first Sunday in the 6 weeks leading up to Easter.
I’ll confess that Lent has never been a big part of my church experience.  I grew up in an evangelical that didn’t celebrate all the traditional calendar dates, and only marked it with a vague sense of needing to “give something up for lent.”
I wonder what your experience of Lent has been like? What comes to mind for you? Is it a meaningful marker for you?
If you’d like to read a history of Lent, here is one source:
Lent has been associated with Jesus’ time in the wilderness, 40 days of fasting in preparation for his ministry.   lt also morphed into the church season leading up to  celebrating Easter.
To clarify, it’s not that Jesus had forty days in the wilderness before the Easter week of Passover/Good Friday.  It was 40 days in the wilderness before 3yr public ministry began.  They have just become consecutive in the yearly church calendar.
In the story of Jesus in the wilderness, I see an acknowledgement that before we are truly ready to bring anything of helpful significance out into the world (ministry) we must undergo our own “desert” time of preparation.  This may be 40 days long, but in my experience it can be much longer.

Let’s read the Matthew account of Jesus’ time in the Wilderness


Jesus Is Tested in The Wilderness

Matt 4: 1-11

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that come from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

This story brings up lots of questions for me:
What form did the tempter take? What were the angels like?
A few things I notice: Jesus was hungry (obviously!) and so was likely experiencing some sort of altered state of consciousness.
Perhaps that is why interacting with the tempter and angels was easier?!
I also notice that Jesus responds to his temper with scripture that he would have learned growing up in the Synagogue.
One of the voices I listen to alot regarding human development and the current state of the world is a wise man named Bill Plotkin.  He is the founder of Animas Valley, an organization dedicated to facilitating wilderness journeys for people, to cooperate with the Mystery in bringing them through a “soul initiation” and into embodying their true nature.  In the word of Animas:
Our mission, in its widest scope, is to contribute to cultural transformation by fostering nature-based personal development and thus the maturation of individuals and the human species. We support each participant to access and embody the world-changing and vital creativity at their core.
 Animas defines the soul of anything as it’s specific ecological niche. We more easily recognise that specific species of plants and animals (and each individual within the species ) fills a niche in an ecosystem.  Why have we felt humans were apart from this?
What niche are humans here to fill on the planet?
What is the true nature of your soul?
I believe that these are not quickly answerable questions.  They require a deep descent into the wilderness of our own psyches.  On the journey will we fast (go without many comforts).  We may well encounter our own tempter.
Perhaps the Devil is the Devil within us, our own shadow side upon which we cast all our “bad” and “dark” and “evil” parts.
Perhaps it is any part of us that would lead us away from our calling? Perhaps in the wilderness we encounter that which we most don’t want to face?
I’m curious; have you experienced a wilderness of any kind in your journey?
Can we ever truly grow up/be ready to minister without some sort of deep wilderness experience?
I have had several wilderness experiences, and I would not recommend it for the faint of heart/spirit! However, I believe that my time in various wilderness, both physical and metaphorical, have been instrumental in shaping me into who I am today. And I am also deeply grateful for the “angels” that showed up to tend to me and keep me from complete oblivion.
Perhaps, in the stage of your life that you are in now you feel you are past your wandering phase.
Or may Spirit is yet calling you into a wilderness as you step away from the village of comfortable belief and wander for a time into the unknown?

Here are three invitations:
1) Heed the call of the wild if it is beckoning you.  This could mean spending as much time as you can in uncultivated spaces, or getting to know people whom you consider “out there”.  Follow what Mystery is unfolding for you, even if it means “fasting” of some sort.
2) if there is a young person in your life who is torn between “fitting in in society” (i.e. going to school, taking a steady job) and the pull of the wild, be one of the rare and wonderful people who validates their urge to explore, and encourages them to go out into the wild.
I had a fascinating conversation with my step-mom this week, where she explained to me that she always sensed in my late teenage years that I was bursting under the pressure of my evangelical upbringing (not from her household) and very confused about who I was at my core. She explained that she’d long sensed that I would “break” and either become even more ardently evangelical and “hard-core Christian” or that I would “go off the grid”.  She figured it would take me about 10 years to “come back” to connection with society/family.  I was amazed to hear in retrospect her long-sightedness which she recounted with such grace and tenderness.  If you know my life path, you know I ended up going the “off-the grid” route, quite literally, living for 3 yrs in a  Denman off-grid cabin, almost a year on a sail boat, and several years in a mountain homestead.  All of which combined with various other wanders, led to yes, about ten years from ages 22-32!! Amazing to reflect back on.  Furthermore, my step-mom recounted how she’d had several conversations with my Grandma who was pressuring me to go to school and “become something”.  My step-mom urged my Grandma to not pressure me in one path but to support me in my wanderings.  Perhaps this is why my Grandma, who had previously pledged a chunk of money to my education, later changed it to a no-strings attached gift, which I used to go to Europe.  Personally, I wouldn’t trade my 10 years of wandering for any degree.  What I have learned in the wide world is invaluable in being able to navigate the world as a full participant, not in the regular ticking of an industrial civilization, but finding my place in the whole of the earth.  I feel grateful for the confidence in my own soul that my step-mom silently held.  She never flaunted it, but seemed to understand that I was being guided by my own inante spirit.
Perhaps you can be such a someone for a young wanderer.
3) If someone you know has recently returned from their own wilderness experience (physical, mental, spiritual) be one of the angels that cares for them.  This could be simple physical assistance as they re-integrate into everyday life.  For me one angle came in the form of my friend Phil, who wisely heard in one January email I sent the veiled plea of someone suffering from harsh loneliness in the mountains in the sun-less winter.  He insisted I come over for dinner, and when I couldn’t make the trek, brought dinner and kindness to me.  His companionship in a rough time saved me from insanity. He was an angel.
Broadening it out even more from our personal experience;
Could it be that humanity itself needs to undergo some sort of it’s own wilderness initiation before we can take our place as serving, and not exploiting, the more-than-human ecosphere?
I notice that it is the Spirit itself that led Jesus out into the wilderness.  It would appear that the Divine at times deems the wilderness as necessary to our process.  When I have felt compelled to extended times in a physical wilderness  it does feel like something of Spirit was at work compelling me.   It felt much larger and important than a whim; though some may have seen it as such from afar.
It seems our society doesn’t readily encourage prolonged periods of wilderness romping.  People are supposed to be “productive” and “contribute to society.”  From my perspective however, without deep soul searching time (wilderness being a great medium for such) we merely become cogs in a societal wheel, without ever exploring what our true calling is.
What is Mystery inviting you to in this season?
And, I want to share this thought from Thinking Faith.org
We should not, therefore, place too much emphasis upon our own efforts. Just as the sun was thought to do the work of ‘lengthening’ the days during early Springtime, so it is the sun – in the sense of God’s warmth and light – that does this work in our ‘lengthening’ and growing in Christ. In the English language, indeed, we have a beautiful play on the words ‘sun’ and ‘son’, which are pronounced identically. Just as the sun was seen to do the work of ‘lengthening’ the days in spring, so it is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who does the work of ‘lengthening’ in our spiritual growth. This image provides a comfort for us in our busy modern world, where hyperactivity can become the norm. Our role during Lent is to cooperate with God’s grace and initiatives, in a sense to relax in the presence of God, rather than to force the pace with our own efforts.
Inclosing, let me leave you with an
In the coming days, take some time to be outside in the wild.  Ask the wide world to speak to you about what Mystery is calling you two now, and to bring to mind any wanderers you could physically support through love, finances, food, warmth, a hot shower…
Closing Prayer:
God of Mystery and Wildness.  
I am leary of the dessert.  I like water and food so much.  But I sense there may be treasures there.
In this season of Lent, show me what I may need to go without, that I may better prepare for what is to come.  
Leave me not without angels to care for and protect me.  
Don’t let me hit my head on rocks (even that I may have left for myself).  
Guide me with humour, grace and love, through any wilderness I may encounter. 
 Let me come through any of it that I may better minister to the world.
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