House of sand

At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him. ~Mark 1:12-13 (CEB)

“A Strange life-giver, the Holy Spirit, for the life given is compassed about by desolation. The story of Jesus bears stark testimony to this unsettling truth. At the birth of Jesus the Spirit-guided words of Simeon prophesy desolation for Israel and for the heart of Mary as well (Luke 2:34-35). Immediately after his baptism, during which God calls Jesus ‘my beloved,’ the Spirit drives him into the wilderness of isolation, vulnerability, and temptation (Mark 1:12-13). And at the end of a life exquisitely responsive to every subtle rhythm of the Spirit’s leading, Jesus chokes out the unthinkable words, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt 27:46)

Christian tradition teaches that there are times when we, like Jesus, are led into arid soulscapes that bruise and disorient us. These places seem bereft of God’s presence and filled with temptations to lose heart in God’s goodness, care, and sovereignty. In this harsh ‘winter of abandonment’ (Johannes Tauler), Jesus’ anguished cry of desertion becomes our own. Desert and cross- places of excruciating separation from the God we have some to know but equally unbearable intimacy with the God we are yet to know, places bare of all human possibilities but pregnant with grace. ‘Lord,’ exclaims the scorned and ill young priest in a novel by Georges Bernanos, ‘I am stripped bare of all things, as you alone can strip us bare, whose fearful care nothing escapes, nor your terrible love.’ [We discover] the riches hidden in the poverty of desert and cross, symbols of God’s ‘terrible love.’ In the ‘fearful care’ of the Holy Spirit we are stripped bare but not left naked and exposed in desert wastes.” ~From “Editor’s Introduction” by John S. Mogabgab in Weavings September/October 1993

The Hebrews after their release from bondage traveled through a desert on the way to learning who they were as children of God. Doors to the past had to be shut in order for them to move into their new future in the Promised Land. Old habits and old ways of thinking had to be worked through in that isolation time in the desert. If I remember the Israelites when I find myself in times of “desert” I know that God is taking me to a place where I can begin anew. The desert isn’t a place of abandonment; it is the transition time from “what was” to “what will be”.

Lord, in the desert moments of life help me to remember that these are just momentary transitions of life. Just as the Hebrews had to spend time in the desert to ready their hearts to enter the Promised Land so I must spend time in preparation for the things You want me to do. Bolster me and strengthen me for the task of transformation to new life. Amen.

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