40 Words #3: “Wilderness” (2.12.2016)


from the Psalter World Map c.1265 http://www.wikipedia.org

Yesterday’s word was “40”, referring to the length of Lent as well as the length of time both Jesus (days) and the nation of Israel (years) spent in the wilderness.

In Biblical terms, the wilderness is never a comfortable place to be. In the ancient world, there were a lot harsher boundary markers between civilization and the wilderness; there weren’t convenience stores, or cell phone coverage, or highways.

There was, however, a lot of darkness; of wild animals; of the unknown.

One of my favorite images is on medieval maps: outside the borders of known areas, cartographers would put a drawing of a dragon and indicate, “Here Be Dragons.” (Which, by the way is also the name of an excellent historical fiction series by Sharon Kay Penman… I gave you that for free.)

To enter the wilderness is to enter a place where you are no longer comfortable, where you come face to face with mortality and with dangerous creatures that you don’t normally have to face in your “normal” world.

Kind of like Lent.

In the 40 days of Lent, many of us pursue disciplines that are designed to reduce our comfort (like fasting), and contemplate the brokenness in our lives. What’s more, sometimes in Lent you  unexpectedly come face to face with a “beast” that you don’t normally see… And usually the beast is you.

Lent is designed to open your eyes, to bring you into proximity with the areas of your life that you’d rather avoid.

But here’s the thing: In the Bible, the wilderness is also the place of growth. Israel spends 40 years in the wilderness, not just as punishment, but as preparation to be the people of God in the land of Canaan (clearly, they didn’t learn very well). Jesus goes into the wilderness to be “tested” (furthermore, he only goes into the wilderness after his baptism, and hearing his father pronounce him “Beloved”), and afterwards moves directly into ministry.

The wilderness may be dangerous, but most of the time it’s necessary, and even beneficial.

As you go through your journey, resist the temptation to leave the wilderness before the wilderness teaches you everything you have to learn.


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