February 22, 2015


The spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days …. - Mark 1: 12-13

   Unlike Matthew & Luke, Mark does not focus on the nature of the testing – just its setting & its duration. Perhaps this is meant to call our attention to the parallel between our Lord’s experience & the forty days Moses spent on Mt. Sinai or the forty years the people of Israel spent wandering in the wilderness after their deliverance. Whatever, the correlation between the desert (barren, seemingly devoid of life) & temptation is clear. So too is the fact that it was God’s Holy Spirit that sent Jesus there.

   Throughout christian devotional literature, the desert has come to symbolize more a spiritual condition than a place. It is any experience (long or short) that makes us aware of our vulnerability, our aloneness, & our dependence upon God. Thus it could be a retreat, the monastic life itself, a traumatic crisis in our lives, or an extended period  of disorientation when we do not seem to have any direction, value, or purpose in our lives. It is the experience of aridity, when all the usual props have been pulled out from under us & God seems distant [if not altogether absent].

      In short, it is an experience that can either undo us or make us, so far as our spiritual maturity is concerned. It is the sort of thing that can make or break our faith. Notice that Jesus had to undergo this experience before He could begin His public ministry!

   While such experiences inevitably force us to reexamine our lives (to question why the old answers no longer seem to work), this need not be something awful & to be dreaded. On the contrary, it can be life-giving.

   A terribly insecure woman once went to a Christian psychiatrist for therapy. After several sessions, the psychiatrist said, “Margaret, as we are talking I sense that there is a beautiful person within you. I would like to work with you to try to bring out that beautiful person.” When she heard this it almost wiped her out. She suddenly realized that all through her upbringing, all through her marriage, she had never heard anyone say anything like that to her. It had always been demand, obligation, expectation, being criticized. Hearing these words kindled a new appreciation for what she had to offer, & she was able to begin to deal with her insecurity.

   Lent is a time of self-examination wherein God, if we will let Him, tries to bring out the beautiful person buried deep within each of us. However obscured it may be by our own sins or the sins of others against us, it is there because God put it there when He created us in His own image. This requires a cooperative effort. We cannot do it on our own & God refuses to do it for us.

   It also requires a sustained effort. Forty days is barely enough time to scratch the surface of the corrosion of hurt, pride, & hate that encrusts our lives. But at least it is a beginning, & that is all God asks of us. Failure to try at all is to yield to the tyranny of the dark currents ever willing to drag us down into the abyss.

   Finally,  what we attempt to do during Lent is never an end in itself. If we seek to uncover, perhaps even discover, for the first time the beauty within, it  is only so that we might go out & be instruments of God’s healing in the lives of other people. It is only so that we might help them to realize the beauty within their souls so that they too can sing a new song unto the Lord, praising & magnifying His holy name.  Amen!