February 18, Desert

In the first part of today’s Gospel Story the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert where he was alone for forty days, was tempted by Satan, was with wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. This is something we have in common with Jesus and with each other — we all have our own desert experience, often more than once, and in varying degrees. This difference is that a lot of us have no idea about the desert, and when we are having our difficult experiences we tend to react in some kind of anger and blame others for what “they” are doing to “poor me”. This might have something to do with many of us being raised to fear God who is “out there somewhere” waiting for us to step out of line, not following God’s plan, or doing God’s will. 

This was my experience with my multi-year desert dealing with the after effects of Vietnam and other things. While in retrospect I can see things differently, at the time I was very angry. My attitude was anger outward, and I inflicted my anger on everybody around me. Now I look back and see that, while I was among my own wild beasts, God sent angels to minister to me, one had four paws. Many of them I did not treat well. I was not a nice person. The people in my life deserved better. Each desert since then has helped me become more aware of God sending angels, and while the wild beasts have always been there, I’ve learned to be alert, but not pay much attention to them. Each has been a growing experience, and led me to a better place and attitude on my journey, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I am thankful that through all that has happened in my life, God being God — Abba, Jesus, Spirit — has become much more real to me, and this is still happening.

After his desert experience Jesus traveled and proclaimed his Father’s kingdom, “This is the time of fulfillment, the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel”. There is a connection between our deserts and how we see other people. They become less of a threat to us. We come to realize that religion is not about finding God’s love, but about recognizing and celebrating God loving us in everything. In my angry phase, 20+ years, I could not see God being involved at all, except as totally unresponsive to my prayers to “fix” things, to do something to others so they would not bother me so much. Yet looking back, I can see how God was doing things and sending angels to fix me, because I was the source of my problems. The Kingdom of God was happening.  

The Kingdom involves healing, and in God’s providence, this healing often happens through people in my life. From time to time I was mistreated, no doubt about that, but I was bringing in on myself. Over the years this attitude gradually went away and was replaced by a lot of good, although I can’t say exactly what. I’ve learned that, as Jesus taught, openness to the Kingdom has to be a primary focus, because people are hurting all around me, and I may be a source of healing. The kingdom is within me on my constant journey of decision and inner conversion. Jesus is calling me to repent, to change where I’m looking for my happiness, and go where this takes me — no easy thing. Abba’s healing is not always about curing, removing physical symptoms, although this does happen. Healing often is internal wholeness, not about knowing or having answers, but about wandering and wondering, a great deal of trusting uncertainty, even doubt. It is an ongoing journey that may or may not have something to do with keeping a given tradition ’s rules. Maybe yet more desert experiences, beasts, angels. Quite a ride.

Religion can play an important role here. It is always about me, always calling me to grow, to change, to see things differently, to repent, not impose my views on others in any way. It is about how Abba is calling me to live, not about what I expect others to do so I can feel safe and in control. The Kingdom happens in my life in the setting of whatever is going on around me, and nothing has to change for me to live in response to the Spirit. I am constantly called to conversion, which may or may not have anything to do with the rules of a particular religious tradition, although their context has a lot to say about how I am to do this. Often a religious tradition’s rules are more about the religion than God. It’s a matter of accepting a tradition and going where it points, letting go when necessary, being open to the Spirit. This can be a lonely journey as many of the saints show us.

Jesus tells his followers to call God Abba, Father, Daddy. What happens when I try to move in this direction in my life and prayer? Can I handle the amazing depth that this would expose me to, the incredible mystery of which I might become aware of as very real and happening in my life all around me? When I pray “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” can I accept that heaven is not a place somewhere else that comes later but an experience of here and now when I try to live as is seems Abba is calling me to live, an experience of Abba happening here and now? Am I willing to do a lot of letting go? Can I accept that Abba loves everybody as He loves me, and that everybody as they are is welcome in the Kingdom just as I am? While responding to the Spirit is personal, it is never private. It always involves the people in my life, everyone whether I like them or not. What is Abba saying here?

This past week as I gave ashes I said, “Repent and believe in the Good News”. The Good News is that Abba loves me as I am, and everybody else as they are, and there is nothing I can do to make this stop. I dare not declare that Abba doesn’t love someone because their way of living makes me uncomfortable. It’s not about what I do, but what I let Abba do in me. Am I willing to take a chance and try to live this, fully aware that it will offend some folks and religious authorities? Can’t I just go hide and wait for my next step? But Jesus is telling me, “This is the time of fulfillment, the Kingdom of God is at hand”, to get my act together and start to live as I think the Kingdom, the Gospel, Abba, is calling me to. It’s about me, how I live, not how I think others should live. Wandering and wondering. Wouldn’t change a thing. Just sayin  .  .  .

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Pat Liebhardt

    Great things to think and pray about today and to hear what I need to hear.
    Thank you Jim!

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