I have driven more than once through the heart of Canada, which is both extraordinarily beautiful and remarkably empty. Nothingness is incredibly vast there. I remember feeling absolutely certain that if my car ran out of gas or overheated, I would become a tasty treat for some Canadian predatory creature. No one would save me. No one would find me. Because there was no one . . . for miles and miles.
This month begins the church season of Lent. Lent is a bit mysterious and understood in different ways by different people and different traditions. At its core, however, Lent is a time to prepare our hearts to commemorate the cross and the resurrection. It is a time for introspection, repentance, and renewal. It is a time to intentionally step into the wilderness.
The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness. Lent is forty days long (not counting Sundays) and extends an invitation to us to wander into a wilderness of our own. In the wilderness distractions are minimized, doubts are exposed, fears emerge, and our own inadequacies become clear. Why, then, is the wilderness such an important place? Because it is a perfect place to meet God.
In the wilderness, there is nothing to distract us or protect us; we are vulnerable. In the wilderness we examine our scars. In the wilderness we confront our sins. In the wilderness we remember that we need God. This is why the wilderness matters. If we pay attention, we will discover that in the wilderness we are not alone. Our Creator speaks new life into desolate landscapes. Our Creator quenches the thirst of dry and cracked earth. Our creator hosts feasts in the middle of nowhere (see Ps. 78), and we are invited!
I did not have a cell phone in the Canadian wilderness. If I had, my experience would have been very different; the wilderness would have ceased to be wilderness. We live in a hyperconnected world of perpetual distractions and cluttered calendars. We have, seemingly, no time to wander into the wilderness, and likely, not much interest. The wilderness is a frightening place after all, and we cannot take our smartphones with us.
So, maybe we will bypass this season of preparation and continue to press onward in our safe and convenient landscapes of busyness and digital diversion until we arrive safely at our destination and tear into our Easter baskets. But I hope not. I hope we hear the whisper of the Spirit drawing us deeper into the those hidden places in our hearts where we ask important questions and wrestle with sin and doubt. I hope we find a way to step into that wilderness once again. It might make us uncomfortable. It might take some sacrifice. It might even seem dangerous. But it might be precisely what we need to rediscover the wonder of a divine love that meets us in the wilderness, takes our hand, and guides us beyond into new and majestic landscapes. Lent is always followed by Easter!
With hope, - Pastor Jonathan