Two wilderness journeys serve as metaphors for Lent: the forty days Jesus spent being tempted and tried and the forty years Moses and the children of Israel wandered lost.
The ancient spiritual wisdom that created Lent says that we need wilderness as much as they did as a place of transformation and transition, a place to get lost so that we find a new way to go and a new identity in relation to God and the world. We do not reach the other side of the wilderness until our heart, mind and spirit have been transformed as well as our physical reality.
Taking the wilderness experiences of Jesus and Moses as models and metaphors we can ask ourselves:
- What wilderness is the Spirit leading or driving us into right now as individuals or as a people?
- What obstacles, trials or temptations, does the Spirit need us to face and overcome?
- What gifts or growth are we hoping will come out of this wilderness time?
- What is equivalent to Pharaoh’s Egypt, what enslaves us or holds us back from where the Spirit is leading, what freedom do we need? What help do we need in order to start the journey into the wilderness?
- What we will do this Lent to seek the sacred way that will lead us safely through the unknown time ahead? How could we change our life to be more Spirit-led and to practice the presence of God moment to moment, to live more mindfully and heartfully?
- Who we are, as individuals and as a human race, in relation to God and in relation to God’s Creation, this earth as a whole and our place in particular?
- What is the Promised Land that God wants us to reach as a people or as individuals?
- Where are you now in this wilderness?
This Lent of 2020 finds us in far more than a symbolic wilderness—the entire human race, our entire world has entered a pathless, shifting, harsh landscape, with dangers unprecedented in human history in some ways, and in other ways the same kind of suffering other generations and civilizations have experienced at the worst of times, in Great Depressions or plagues or societal collapse. The short term outlook is alarming because of the life disruptions and economic impacts of a global pandemic, and that is only a mild preview of coming attractions as the environment becomes more hostile because of human abuse. People who are poor, vulnerable and marginalized are at particular risk, as is democracy. If we are not experiencing at least some anxiety, we are not paying attention.
This Sunday we will face our fears and lostness as Lent calls us to do, but we will also find the greatest sources of comfort and guidance and strength that we could possibly have. Wildernesses have always been anxious, dangerous places, so we have wisdom that can reassure us from the past. Wildernesses also have been creative, transformative, hopeful places, as Jesus and Moses found, and we have wisdom to help us have those experiences in the midst of our struggles.
We can be thankful for ancient and contemporary words, music and models that give us courage and help us through whatever wildernesses we face, personal or global.
The most important thing is to be intentional, to be awake, to be open to the Spirit and willing to work with it on our journey so that we end up at the Promised Land, so that we emerge full of the spiritual gifts and wisdom we need.
A central question to keep asking is, “Where are you?” God asked this of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after the Fall. Many who have gone astray have asked it of themselves, and many who have suffered unjustly have asked it of God. Asking it leads to discovery of both the truth of our present and also the path to the future that the Spirit needs us to find.
We will read the story of the Garden of Eden from Genesis chapters 2 and 3 and the story of Jesus in the wilderness in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 4. We will sing the classic Lenten hymn, “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and the moving spiritual, “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” as well as “God, This Wilderness Seems Trackless,” set to the Bach-harmonized Advent tune, Wachet Auf. The choir will sing two pieces arranged by the Amidons that we will have learned at their workshop this Saturday: “Come O Thou Traveler” and the Zulu prayer, “Ukuthula.” The choir will also sing the beautiful Iona/John Bell/Wild Goose piece, “In Love You Summon, In Love I Follow.”
You can hear “Ukuthula” on YouTube here, and you may be moved to tears especially if you read the lyrics which are printed below it on YouTube: