War can drive us all into the wilderness.
Missiles drop, and we drop to our knees.
We are a world wildly looking for a way out, we’re a hurting world desperately fleeing – we see it all over our news screens.
Pain carries us to prayer, and our years of collective loss howl in a long lament.
We all stand here on the cusp of Lent.
It has to be more just over 10 years ago now, that I was standing up on the kitchen table, snapping the shutter on a bouquet of roses, when my brother called.
Levi picked it up, his eyes twinkling, stars risen early.
I only could hope that Levi doesn’t mention he’s answering because his Mama was standing smack dab center in the middle of the table, her all happy over a bunch of God glory found in flowers.
“Hello? … Oh, hi Uncle John.”
Levi was then, and still is, a miniature mirror image of my brother, smattering of freckles bridging across the nose and the thirty years that span between them.
Levi mouthed it large, one hand over the receiver.”ARE YOU AVAILABLE, MOM?”
Oh, but wouldn’t I stop being Mom if I stopped being available? I set the camera aside, hop off the table. Levi had grinned and handed over my brother.
“Hey. So tell me. Lent. Fill me in, sister. What’s the deal? Like – the actual point?”
“The wilderness is where the Word is heard and we’re formed into a person of the Word.”
Our faith community doesn’t practice Lent.
And apparently, at least not today, my brother doesn’t do Google.
Apparently, if need be, he just waits for his older-by-only a -year-and-13-days sister to just Google.
I could hear the rumble of the diesel engine of his pick-up in the background. He could hear the low roar of my kids.
“Okay, yeah… Lent. Lent is this preparing the heart for Easter. Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to face with our true enemy.”
The Hebrew word for wilderness echoes with the same letters as the Hebrew word “medabber” — which means “speaking.”
“The promised answer to our prayers may not be found in promised lands, but in wildernesses.”
The wilderness is where the Word is heard and we’re formed into a person of the Word.
The promised answer to our prayers may not be found in promised lands, but in wildernesses.
Every wilderness, every desert — is not where God deserts— but is where God woos with a whispered Word.
Lent leads far away from the world and out into wildernesses so the soul can find a way to listen.
On other end of the line, my brother was silent. I’m not so sure that this is good. I kept talking. Trying to find the way through to what this season of Lent really means.
“Lent isn’t about forfeiting as much as it’s about formation. Not about forfeiting stuff as much as forming souls.”
Like when we came to Jesus the very the first time, Lent returns us to Him again: We renounce to be reborn. It’s about this: We break away from more – to become more.”
Still silence. I took one last swing at it.
“Don’t think of Lent as about working your way to salvation. Think of it as working out your salvation.”
Lent isn’t about a way to earn your salvation, Lent is about the way to the One who bought your salvation – and paying Him more attention.
And then my brother spoke slow.
“Yes…. Yes…. I get it. I’m going to do it with you, sister. I’m doing Lent. God’s been speaking things into my life and I think this is how He wants to meet me right now.” Like brother, like sister.
I had stacked clean dishes and my brother and I had talked about some dark corners of our lives. We confessed. We prayed.
And then? We lived the first week of Lent.
And this is what happened: I forsake and I fast and I forget and I flounder, and I fall… and I fail.
I made soup and I lit the candles. We bowed.
I served bowls, passed out bread, poured the cups. And in the midst of the cacophony of all the kids talking, I blithely sat down for lunch and ate.
I have bread in the mouth, the bowl half empty, when I drop the
spoon. I absentmindedly had been eating lunch, a meal I vowed to fast from.
I had choked it out in a whisper, “Oh, do I not think enough of You to remember?”
I’d closed my eyes and the heart cries silent: “How do I remember You so little?”
“You’ve got to choose to be dispossessed of all the possessions that possess your heart— before one can be possessed of God.”
It is an irrefutable law: You’ve got to choose to be dispossessed of all the possessions that possess your heart— before one can be possessed of God.
Lent is about letting the things of this world fall away, so the soul can fall in love with God.
God only comes to fill the empty places and kenosis is necessary — emptying the soul to know the filling of God.
When my brother had called late in that first week of Lent that year, just to talk, I was brutally honest and he listened. He unwrapped his week haltingly. Like brother, like sister.
“Lent, it’s teaching me.”My throat stings. “I see how incapable I am in the flesh, how in bondage I am. That I can’t keep any law perfectly. Worse – oh, this cuts deep — at times…”
I had struggled to keep composure, to grip the words and hand them over. Can I even say these words?
“Worse… at times… I don’t even want to keep the law.” Am I saying I don’t care about breaking laws or breaking God’s heart?
Lent is a revelation of our temptations and soul deformations – and how in need we are of daily, real salvation.
“Lent is about letting the things of this world fall away, so the soul can fall in love with God.”
I’d looked over at the calendar:
40 Days of being on the Way with Jesus –a way through wildernesses, a way through Gethsemanes, a way of the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering, ultimately taking the way of the Cross – the way that leads to resurrection and the abundant LIFE in Christ, the way beyond our wildest dreams!
Jesus with a crown of thorns. Jesus bent low, God carrying my rotting mess, Grace doing what I cannot do, and I cannot ascend to God but He will descend to me.
I had whispered goodbye to my brother because I couldn’t speak.
And I reached out to pick up the wooden cross there on the edge of the table.
Jesus will have to do everything.
And this year, on the brink of Lent, as the world is on the brink of all-out-war, there is this heavy sense that we are all wandering in a wilderness. And we are all dog-tired of the relentless desert.
This year, we need a Lent that lends a Word of HOPE.
Children are wailing over guns ringing and the words we read on our screens break our hearts.
And in Hebrew, the root for “Word” is dabar — which is also the very root word for desert, “midbar” in Hebrew, — which can rightly be translated as “promise” or “answer,” or “place of the word.”
Which is to say: “Desert” and “word” both rise from the same root word in Hebrew.
Which is to say, there is a way: The desert we face can speak a word of HOPE.
Wasn’t it right there, like a raised map, like a map to run fingers along, for all the lost looking for the Way, all there through that very Good Book:
It is in the desert that God has a word for Abraham, for Moses, for the Israelites, for Isaiah…. for Jesus.
That word for desert, “midbar” — it also shares the identical root of the Hebrew word “diber” — which means: Holy of Holies.
“Our hardest of deserts – can be our Holy of Holies.
Where we’ve lost everything else – very God meets us.”
Our hardest of deserts – can be our Holy of Holies.
Where we’ve lost everything else – very God meets us.
Deserts are not places of despair — deserts are sacred spaces of divine dialogue.
The ache of this old broken world doesn’t seem to stop – but we can yield. Yield to the wilderness —- come and be still… and let the wilderness yield a word from God.
What if there’s no need to struggle against the wildernesses, this holy of holies, because:
Wildernesses are not barren places — listen: they bear a word from God.
For all those brave enough to be on the SACRED way.
Join us on the way?
Beginning March 2, we will walk the SACRED way together – taking a prayerful, reflective Lenten Journey from Ash Wednesday right up to Easter Sunday.
Whether you’ve never walked through this season, or if your heart desperately waits for it every year – may we gently and intentionally walk with you?
Forty days – on the way of the Way Himself.
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