Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15
"May God grant us the courage, the wisdom and the strength to seek always after the truth, come whence it may and cost what it will."
As a librarian I've nurtured an abiding love of questions.
My favorites are the ones that sound simple,
but end up with extremely complex answers
For example, what is Lent?
This was the first question I asked
shortly after I joined the Episcopal Church.
Most of us are familiar with the initial answers I was given.
Lent is a season that prepares us for Easter,
a form of " spiritual spring cleaning"
where we make space for God to wipe out the bad things
so we can be ready to better appreciate God's blessings.
Yet this simplistic overview fails to explain why Lent is my favorite season.
It lacks the nuance of how this penitential season,
with its austere decoration and challenging prayers
has repeatedly taken my faith to an entirely different dimension.
I think a part of what draws me back to Lent,
year after year,
is that each time I come to it differently,
and after partaking in its rhythms
I have yet to join the Easter festival unchanged.
This year my meditations on Lent have driven me into the wilderness.
Not just the wilderness I pictured as a child,
An endless sea of sand and heat
With a tumbleweed rolling in the distance
A drastic shift from our current artic existence.
But rather I find myself drawn to the barren wastelands
that we recognize within our souls.
When I speak of the wilderness
I find myself on the border
looking both outward and within.
As I look outward over the physical world,
I cannot help but be touched by the overwhelming disregard for life
That is so prevalent within our world
Poverty and unemployment, racism and incarceration,
The frequent murders of human beings
only because they are different.
All of these create a bleak landscape.
Looking within, I find a similar setting
The view tarnished by grief and fear,
The air heavy with an oppressive smog of doubt and regret.
We are all touched by the wilderness in some way.
Whether we are surrounded by the desolation in our world,
Or trapped by the bleakness of our minds
In this very moment we are in the wilderness.
And that is where the richness of Lent shines forth.
Lent is a time when we can gather as a community to name the truths
That we often prefer to stay buried.
From the pressing reminder of our mortality on Ash Wednesday
To the painful acknowledgement of our failures
The times we've lost sight of God's love in ourselves
and Their light in those around us
This is a season where we are freed
to confront the darkest parts of our existence
and to be reminded that we are not in the wilderness alone.
This week our readings provide us with two different responses to this wilderness.
The first is the temptation to confront the wilderness head on
To obliterate every obstacle,
To kill off everything that makes the wilderness, what it is.
This is the solution that we are confronted with
when we ponder the flood that rocked Noah's ark.
A college friend once asked me, what type of world could be so bad
that would justify that total destruction?
What wilderness was so horrible that God would
"blot out every living thing from the ground" in order to conquer it.
I didn't have an answer for hir. For, uncomfortable as it is,
the description of Noah's world
"that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth"
feels a bit closer to a modern news report, than an ancient problem.
Yet our reading today doesn't focus on the flood,
but what happens afterwards.
Our attention is drawn not to destruction, but a promise.
"The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh"
Upon seeing the total destruction wrought by the flood
God promises to never respond to the wilderness in that way again
Total devastation is not a solution to the wilderness we face.
So that leaves us with the second option,
Rather than following our tendency to remove problems
God chooses to embrace them.
Rather than destroying the wilderness
God chooses to enter it.
We see this come to life in the earth-shattering miracle of the incarnation
God in flesh among us
In our world
Sharing our joy
& Feeling our grief
Millennia after the flood,
Human beings had yet again created a wilderness
Shaped by wickedness and despair
Empires had arisen, poverty thrived, and hope was all but lost
Yet God did not abandon the promise.
To the wilderness we created there was no threat of destruction,
But rather an infant's cry.
God joined us here.
Not to destroy the wilderness of our souls
But to redeem it.
In the person of Christ
God showed us there was another way of responding to the wilderness.
The Gospel of Mark makes it clear that it is in the wilderness
that Jesus's ministry began.
"And the Spirit immediately drove him to the wilderness"
Can you feel the urgency?
What was so important in the wilderness?
And what would the one who was in the beginning with God
Make of the wilderness that became his home for 40 days
And the trembling world that became his life thereafter?
What would the one who had once brought forth life from lifeless dust
Make of a place others believed barren?
It was from this reflection,
that I received the inspiration for this week's W(Holy) Queer.
W(Holy) Queer is just one of the ways we are trying to
connect with students where they are.
Each week I bring a question to a place where students gather
to invite conversation and reflection
about the places faith and religion
are crossing boundaries in their lives.
This week I asked the communities at Mount Holyoke and Hampshire
"Where do you find life in the wilderness"
Some focused on physical features
Sunlight, blizzards, and sparkling snow
The mountains, and the sound that nature makes
Others zoomed in on the creatures that share our existence
Bunnies, and spiders and animals
Still more found life in the intangible things
The transience of the self
And in a child's heart.
It was from their answers that I was reminded that Jesus
Looking out over the barren wasteland,
Most likely saw life, vibrant and thriving,
Within the heart of the wilderness.
And so he left that place,
The inner silence where he was surrounded by the wild beasts
And returned to Galilee
He brought back his discovery, the truth that he had seen.
The wilderness, like a book, cannot be judged by its cover
For within the vast expanse of emptiness, life is swarming within.
From the wilderness of the desert region Jesus returned to our wilderness
To proclaim the Good News
That even within the wilderness,
Of the desert, of our souls and even
Within a broken and battered world
God's love is thriving and alive.
The phrase "Repent and believe the Good News"
Is not a threat, a command to take a certain action or perish,
But rather a brilliant invitation
To turn and see the life that is thriving around you
And to remember the light that is within you.
The practices we are invited to within this Holy Lent
Self-examination and repentance
Prayer, fasting and self-denial
Reading and meditating on God's holy word
Have been crafted through the centuries
To allow us to be driven into the wilderness
And to remind us of the life we are called to nurture there.
In this time where the name of Christ is so often being used as a weapon
To destroy those certain people consider "undesirable"
We are called to remember God's response to that path
To recall how God turned back from the flood
To embrace the wilderness
Making it Holy and teeming with life.
Nowhere have I found our place in the wilderness more clearly defined than in this quote found in the Compline service of
Common Prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.
This was the book that we were given at the start of this
Lawrence House year to help us shape our community of prayer.
This is what we are about: we plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not of our own.
In this season of Lent I would like to invite to join me in reflecting
on your response to the wilderness.
Where do you find life
In a news cycle that is obsessed with death?
Where do you find stillness,
To hear that you are loved
Just as you are, in this exact moment?
Finally, in the next 36 days
Where will you bring the news of the Gods transforming life & love?
The need is,
Copyright © Ari Leigh 2019