This Is the Wilderness

Christians are a people used to waiting. The two pivotal seasons for us each year, Easter and Christmas, are each preceded by a period of waiting and journeying. In both Lent and Advent we change our behavior, our worship, our focus. We reflect and prepare for the breaking-in of God into our space and time– the incarnation of the Divine. These annual pilgrimages have become familiar to many of us, comfortable even, but why? I myself am a rather impatient person by nature, but even I find that I relish and enjoy these seasons of waiting and wanting. I think we can manage the waiting because we still believe we are in control. We know what’s coming. We’ve walked this road before. We get to decide how we spend our time– what we’re going to “give up”. We can tell you the outcome before it even happens. It seems… known. But really… it only seems that way.

The reality is that we can never ‘know’ what will come on the journey to incarnation. Every moment that God breaks into our lives is a unique and new experience. Understandably, there can be a sense of fear around that ‘unknowing’– which I think is why the first thing we often hear accompanying those moments in scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” But incarnation always comes… and it always comes with great love. Our opportunity to ‘let go and let God’, as it were, becomes a journey of hope and freedom.

In these uncertain times of social distance, shelter-in-place, no contact– when businesses are closed, many people find themselves on the verge of unemployment or are already there, news of disease and death, social upheaval and financial distress dominate the airwaves, and we are told we must wait before life can ‘return to normal’, I can’t help but think about Lent and Advent. I am reminded of just how often we are asked to wait for the unknown.

These last few weeks have been a great test for me. I am normally a very social person and to find myself suddenly told to avoid others, was like running into a brick wall. I have struggled with anxiety, loneliness, and a deep sense of isolation. I share this not for your pity or sympathy but because I know many of you have also been struggling. Lent calls us into the wilderness– into that deep place, alone with ourselves, and for most that is a hard place to be. Well– here we are my friends. In this wilderness I have confronted demons and temptations. I have prayed and I have fought. I have reflected and I know I have grown.

We’re not out of the desert yet, and right now the end is unknown. But we are a people of waiting, and what we do know is that God is walking right beside each and every one of us, in this place and everywhere. We are not alone. We are never left in the wilderness. As sure as we are taken to this place of isolation and introspection, we are called out again and back into the loving arms of community and joy and that cycle continues over and over again. So… we can rest in this space for a time. We can struggle in this space for a time, but we will be transformed and resurrected again and again, and each time find ourselves closer and closer to the authentic and life-giving love of God.

Be kind with yourselves right now. Be safe. Be healthy. Be not afraid.