Priest Corner for March 2,2023

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Matthew 4:1
I have been thinking about that small sentence. 11 words. A lot is
packed into this sentence. We know that in context, Jesus left the
“living waters”—the gift of life for all mankind and the spiritual life
force of all mankind. As I mentioned in my sermon, he left all the
luxuries of his day to go into the wilderness. A desert. Barren of all
things living, or so we suspect!

I know a fact or two about deserts. Primarily, a desert is defined by
the amount of annual rainfall. To be classified a desert, this land
receives less than 10 inches of sporadic rain annually. Typically, we think of the Sahara Desert in North Africa or the desert of the Arizona with the large Saguaro cacti. I grew up in a desert—the Namib desert. From the air looking down, there are waves upon waves of sand dunes right up to the water’s edge of the Southern Atlantic Ocean.

First, Jesus is led by the Spirit. Right from the beginning of his ministry, he is obedient to God’s will and follows. John Chryssavgis, author of In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, considers the symbol of a desert as both desert-ness and God’s Presence. Living in a desert can be lonely. The lack of emotional, mental, physical, social, and spiritual connectiveness enhances the sense of isolation leading to depression and possible destruction. But when we look at a barren land, it too
reminds of the above feelings, especially in our spiritual lives. We all walk through dark places. Chryssavgis suggests that these deserts are opportunities for shaking off unhealthy habits. Deserts, he claims, are places of self-reflection.
If we look closely, we are witnesses to a life. Life in the form of lizards, various bugs and spiders. In the Namib desert, the Welwitschia plant, the oldest living organism thrives with droplets of dew from the ocean mist which also feed the creatures scurrying about. In our spiritual lives, we thrive by holding tightly to our faith knowing that God is walking beside us. In our deserts of life, Chryssavgis suggests that these are opportunities for divine callings. Think of Moses and the burning bush. He continues to suggest that our spiritual journeys are made of up deserts, and we must walk through this necessary step in our faith journeys. When we walk through our spiritual deserts, we are gifted with new insights, new endings and new beginnings. The journey can be overwhelming but when experienced voluntarily (after the kicking and screaming has died down—at least in my case), it is both constructive and liberating. The Namib desert, the most ancient desert on this earth, seemingly barren, teams with wildlife of all kinds. From the tiniest of insect to the famed desert lions and elephants, to gemsbok and springbok. We will be blessed in  new and different ways when we walk through our deserts of life.

Foot Note:
John Chryssavgis, In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and
Mothers, rev. ed. (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2008), 3, 34, 35, 36.

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