Give us the courage to accept who we really are and where we should be.
By: Bernadette Moore-Gibson
Today marks the first Sunday in the season of Lent. Usually, when we think of Lent we think of a time for reflection, a time to consider the life and ministry of Jesus. In today’s Gospel of Jesus in the wilderness we have all the classic signs and symbols of Lent. First, there is the period of time – forty days. The number 40, while it certainly can be a literal number, has a greater theological significance. The number 40 indicates a sufficient time; a time when what needs to be completed can be completed. It is a time that extends beyond the ways in which humans keep time. It represents another way of keeping time, a way of keeping time that accommodates the plans and purposes of God.
In the Gospel today Jesus having been baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit has led him into the wilderness where he faced temptation. As I reflect upon Jesus’ time in the dessert it appears that he was in a situation of being asked multiple times “Whose are you, Jesus? And to whom do you belong?” Each time we can hear in Jesus’ reply the voice from the cloud at his baptism saying, “You are Mine, You are my Beloved; and on You My favor rests.” Because in each trial, Jesus affirms that he is God’s own. The choices he makes and the words he speaks reflect the heart of the matter; Jesus relies and trusts in the love and mercy of God.
We don’t know factually what Jesus faced in the wilderness. We are told that he is driven into it, or led into it by the Spirit of God. And then, there’s a great silence. We can fill in the gaps with our imaginations – fueled by our own personal experiences. For haven’t we all had wilderness experiences when we felt that we were at the end of our resources – physically, emotionally and spiritually? Our wilderness experiences may not be ones of physical deprivation and exposure to the elements, but I suspect that they have driven us to ask our ultimate questions: What is it that matters in life? Who matters? What is my value here in this place? Where is meaning in all of the busyness? To whom do I belong? Whose am I?
If you are like me, then it is these wilderness moments, when all the familiar landmarks of life have disappeared, that I am most often driven to PRAYER. Places where I ask God for the courage needed to resist fear and surrender to change. Places where I ask God for the strength to transform my own desert moments into places of abundant life. Oddly enough, when we are most lost we often find that we have a whole lot less to lose – in terms of our sense of control of our lives, so surrender becomes easier. And in surrender comes prayer – a deep, real prayer – and consequently, a richer connection to the source of our being – a God who loves us and is present in our healing. Perhaps it is fitting that this first Sunday of Lent falls on Valentine’s day, a day where we are pointed in the direction of a glimmer of light and into the loving arms of God.
Author Anne Lamott writes, “[Prayer] begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves, or when we are just so sick and tired of being physically sick and tired that we surrender, or at least we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something. Or maybe miraculously, we just release our grip slightly.”
And when we do that, we find a life preserver to catch ahold of. And maybe we’re still bobbing out there in pretty deep waves, but we have a line on who is with us. Today Jesus’ wilderness experience has driven him into 40 days of prayer, and the prayer has centered him, reminded him who he is – a child of God, God’s own. The one in whom God is so very pleased. Jesus remembers God’s mercy and Love. As children of God, this is our good news too. This same life line is ready, is there for us tethering us to the good news of God’s Grace, Mercy and constant Love.
Let me be so bold as to invite you into a Lenten discipline of 40 days of courageous prayer. The wilderness of our lives may not magically disappear for us and our trials find themselves behind us however, we may discover that the wilderness is not as desolate nor as threatening when we listen with our hearts focused on our loving God. Let us pray to be guided into the pathways of justice, love and mercy during these wilderness Lenten days.
Bernadette Moore-Gibson is the Director of Pastoral Care at Old St. Patrick’s Church.