by Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, February 20, 2015, SpiritSounding PDF
“And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13)
Into the wilderness – yet again!
And so we once again begin our corporate Christian journey into the wilderness. With the mark of ashes upon us, we begin the journey that ultimately leads us into and through the winding streets of Jerusalem – to the foot of the cross.
Like many of you, I have found myself in the wilderness on many occasions – at times thrust into the unknown abyss by life’s unexpected and unwanted twists and turns. At those moments – of death, illness, broken relationships, and disappointments – the wilderness has often felt like a celestial black hole from which I could not escape. At other moments, I have entered the wilderness willingly – albeit reluctantly – without certainty of where I might be going. Joining you in a journey to become a “new” 300-year old presbytery initially felt a bit like a wilderness journey. While being deeply aware of God’s presence, I was equally aware that there were no billboards or mile markers guaranteeing me or us of what the road before us might look like.
The truth is that wilderness journeys can be tough. They challenge our assumptions, causing our emotional equilibriums to be thrown off. They cause us to wrestle with the core of who we claim to be. The wilderness exhausts us, causing us to fear for our very existence. Consider Jesus’ journey in the wilderness. For forty days, he too experienced temptations that required him to consider deeply his identity as the Son of God. He too could not escape being confronted by the temptations of the world. They were temptations not unlike those that are presented to us day in and day out – for power and dependence on physical sustenance.
But there is more to wilderness journeys than temptations and exhaustion. If we reflect on the Biblical narrative, we understand that in many ways, the wilderness is a place of preparation for how we are to live when we come forth from the wilderness. It was true for the children of Israel – as a new community was formed. It was true for Jesus – as his public ministry was started. The wilderness compelled them as it compels us to consider what our witness will be before the world – as we re-enter that world.
I’ve come to cherish this sacred journey through Lent, not so much because it is a time for giving things up. Instead I’ve come to cherish Lent as a time for reclaiming and strengthening our identity with the Creator God who through Jesus, relentlessly pursues us in hope and love. It is a time of examining our hearts and assessing how our claimed identity is reflected in what we say and how we live – as individuals and as covenant communities of faith. In many ways the wilderness causes a stirring within us that compels us into faithfulness with courage and boldness.
As I reflect on our recent journey, we have felt that stirring in the life of our presbytery in creatively seeking ways where our congregations – suburban and urban, small and large – might continue to be places of hope and encouragement. We have imagined places where the gospel already is and in the future may be lived and shared with men and women, youth and the aged. We have felt that stirring in our presbytery in our desire to find ways to be a voice of hope before issues of injustice and violence. We have felt that stirring – a stirring to bring healing to the divide caused by racism and other “isms” that tear at the fabric of our society.
This past weekend, I again experienced this stirring as many in our presbytery participated in the conversation on Race and Christian witness as part of our two-day celebration of Black History Month. Our conversations took us to deep and vulnerable places – wilderness places if you will, where our emotional assumptions were shared and challenged; where personal reflections were complex, honest and often, pain-filled. Our guest speaker and preacher, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson reflected on the role of the church in bringing healing to the challenges of economic and educational injustice plaguing our society, causing our hearts to stir with a desire to make right what is broken in our midst.
I don’t know where all this stirring will lead. It is both exciting and unsettling, feeling a bit like a “wilderness” journey. But I do know what happens when you and I are not stirred – we become tempted to remain where we are, comfortable, indifferent or afraid of the world around us.
So my prayer for us is that we will allow this “Holy Spirit stirring” to shape the songs and prayers of our Lenten pilgrimage. And that we, like so many before us, will emerge from this Lenten “wilderness” boldly prepared and encouraged to serve as agents of transformation, giving shape to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for this season to which we’ve been called.