After an encounter with the shadowlands of Ash Wednesday, we now sit silently in front of an opened curtain, revealing the five-week theater that is the Valley of Lent. The Gospel narrative for the first Sunday of Lent is that of the desert temptation.
Each of the synoptic gospels signal the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry against the backdrop of the desert. In biblical parlance, “the desert” is the hard place in Scripture. It’s the place we go to struggle, to figure out who is who and what is real. It’s the place where souls are revealed.
Imagine Jesus as he fasts and takes his lonely walk in the desert. He looks out and only sees a wasteland, no garden or stream, no milk or honey, only rocks and sand and the occasional desert fox. The scenery matches his interior. The land is as empty as his stomach.
After journeying forty long days and nights without food, he rests. Exhausted and hungry, Jesus meets the devil and so do we. For this is not Jesus’ story alone; it is our story, too. Jesus carries the fullness of humanity into this divine appointment with the Devil. We are thus invited to a pilgrimage down, into and through the dark night of the soul. It is an invitation to wander in the wilderness, to come face to face with the blurred contours of our own battered souls as we journey with Jesus to the cross.
In the introduction to the Lenten season from Ash Wednesday, the reflection concluded with a statement that today, in the desert, informs our journey forward:
“Lent is the invitation to meet with God in the inner room of life and locate our heart’s desire inside the heart of the One who desires us.”
It is important to remember what immediately precipitated the Spirit’s leading Jesus into the wilderness. He entered the desert “full of the Holy Spirit,” according to Luke’s account. The “filling” occurred because he had just received the commissioning words of his baptism, “And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Just as Jesus takes humanity’s desert journey onto himself cloaked in blessing, we are also invited to take God’s blessing as our own. We are commissioned on our journey by God’s love and desire for us… regardless of how well we handle the path ahead. We don’t have to earn the blessing. It’s already ours. And that blessing is more than an abstract idea. It informs everything about our journey, even its starting point.
I am reminded of a quote that fueled the beginning of Lent several years ago for our Street Psalms community. It touches on a crucial element of pilgrimage that is the Lenten journey.
“The truth is that when someone sets out on the road, it’s never in the name of an abstract idea…. Set out from where you are; otherwise, you’ll never arrive anywhere.”
– Jean Sulivan, Morning Light
So, let’s begin the Lenten journey from right where we are — commissioned in love and covered in blessing. How else can we lay our souls bare before God and others?
For more lenten reflections, please visit The Human Becoming: a Lenten Devotional, created by the Tacoma Center for Urban Peacemaking.