Gift of Wilderness
“And Jesus was led up by the Spirit, into the wilderness.” Matthew 4:1
Every wilderness experience I have ever had has been wonderful. Our first trip to Yellowstone, with two young girls in the car, will always hold a special place. After driving for days, we arrived in the park and I told my girls that if they saw cars by the side of the road and looked closely, they would very likely see a bison or an elk. They were so excited. No sooner had the words left my mouth, when we turned a corner and in front of us was a small herd of bison, and a small herd of cars. Their mouths flew open and I became prophetic! Then Mesa Verde and the homes of the Anasazi, the first peoples; General Sherman and the towering Giant Sequoias; Arches National Park, and rocks reddened by the sunset — all of these experiences have shown me the very heart of God, and opened my soul to its greatest healing.
Perhaps that is the purpose of wilderness, not to be ominous but to be instructive, to allow open spaces to open the heart, that there might be more room for the divine, and for the Word of God to take its place in us. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit at the beginning of his ministry. Perhaps God was providing him intentional space to consider his commission and what it meant to be the Son of God. Perhaps our time in wilderness and in the intangible wilderness of our lives is meant for the same. Perhaps it is a gift of God, to provide space for the widening of the heart, the deepening of our compassion, the examination of our pain, and the opportunity to consider our commission as followers of Jesus.
Lent is a wilderness journey of some 40 days, and it is meant for much the same. It is meant to open the heart and bare the soul and consider, not that which is external to us, but that which is internal. That we might be broken open by the silent space of wilderness and granted instruction by the wide sky of God’s grace.
Perhaps, like Jesus, it is a rare opportunity for the leading of the Spirit — the gift of time, to learn who we are. Often we give up something for Lent, but perhaps rather than giving stuff up, we might this year, lean into that which deepens our identity as children of God. That which helps us to know ourselves better, scars and all. Perhaps it is time for sabbath keeping, which is my decision for this Lenten journey, or prayer or study, or simply the space to stop and allow the spinning of our lives to slow, so that we might catch a glimpse of our identity outside of the whirlwind.
When did you last stand at the top of a mountain, or at the edge of the sea, or in the shadow of the tallest tree at the end of a journey? What did you see there? And more importantly, what did you feel there? The depth of that feeling is what it means to stand in the company of God and for just a moment, to know deeply who you are.
May you journey in the strength of that knowledge in this season. May it carry you into every grace and into every act of compassion and care you extend in God’s name. May the knowledge that you are loved by God, as you are, be your hope for every tomorrow. God bless you on this and every wilderness road you travel.
Godspeed your journey,
(In order to honor my Lenten Sabbath keeping, I will be away from my phone on Mondays, my day off, between now and Easter. I will be distant from my phone, that I might be close to God. I pray the same nearness for you, in whatever way you choose.)
As you may have recently heard, we just finished cleaning out and organizing the attic in the sanctuary. If you haven’t seen the highlight video of that process yet, make sure to scroll down to the Stewardship Stream article – you’re in for a treat! And as I mentioned at the annual meeting, we have plans to do similar cleaning and organizing across the entire campus over the coming months. All of our houses got Marie Kondo-ed during the pandemic, and now it’s the church’s turn!
I have always loved a good sort and purge, which is a catchy new phrase that I (hopefully) just invented to describe the process of both organizing a space, as well as giving/throwing things away. I just love the feeling of creating order out of chaos. And I especially love how fresh and clean the space feels afterwards. The only problem is, I am also incredibly sentimental, and I express that sentimentality by hanging on to old keepsakes. When I moved to San Diego, I had four storage bins full of Legos, as well as two other bins of random memorabilia. Thanks to a few different purges those have since dwindled – I’m now down to two boxes of Legos, and only one box of nostalgia-related items!
Now, some of you might be wondering, how is it possible for a person to love sorting, organizing, and purging, and also be a sentimental packrat? Aren’t those two personality traits mutually exclusive? On paper, you’d be absolutely right, and I would 100% agree with you that those two things don’t go together. And yet, it must be possible because … well … here I am! The living embodiment of those seemingly contradictory ways of being in the world.
Thankfully, there’s some rock-solid Lutheran theology that helps explain this conundrum – and it is called “Both/And” theology. As opposed to “either/or” theology, “both/and” theology is a way of understanding contradiction and paradox. It’s a way of realizing that the world is far more complex than we realize, and that things that seem to be mutually exclusive do indeed co-exist at the same time. That’s how we can understand that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, or the fact that we are all simultaneously both saint and sinner, or how the kingdom of God both is present now and is yet to come. And if it can cover those lofty topics, it can most certainly account for my own personal contradictions.
“Both/and” theology is one of my favorite aspects of the Lutheran way of understanding the world. I mean, how boring would it be to go through life always having to pick either/or, this or that, when instead you can say, “Both!” Seriously, though, I think that it is a much more realistic way of understanding the world around us. We live in a world where contradictions and paradoxes are commonplace. A world that is most certainly not black or white, but rather every blessed color under the sun. It’s a world that is filled with nuance and complexity. So thank goodness we have a theology that can stand up to such a wonderful and complicated world!
Your contradictory (at times) sibling in Christ,