Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. –Psalm 139:23-24, NRSV
I offer these reflections on God’s absence that is, paradoxically, God’s presence on the threshold of Lent. These 40 days of spare simplicity in preparation for the dark suffering of Good Friday and radiant joy of Easter, always begin with a return to the gospel story of Jesus’ 40 day sojourn into the barren wilderness of Sinai’s desert.
Jesus has just been baptized, and he has heard deep in his heart God’s Voice naming him Beloved. To claim this identity, to choose it for himself, to know it as the deepest core and truest essence of his human being, Jesus departs immediately into the desert. In this barren place he sifts through all the competing voices of ego and cultural expectations about what it means to be the Messiah. Beneath the raucous clamor it is God’s “still, small voice” he hears, God’s vision he embraces, God’s call of love rather than power that he chooses to follow. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes: Absence and Presence in the Desert
- When have you heard deep in your heart God’s Voice naming you Beloved?
- What layers of competing voices and cultural expectations are you called to sift through this Lenten season to discover God’s “still, small voice” beneath?
- Prayerfully dwell with Psalm 139. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?
He sustained him in a desert land,
in a howling wilderness waste;
he shielded him, cared for him,
guarded him as the apple of his eye.
–Deuteronomy 32:10, NRSV
When I finished my doctoral studies, I was ready to start my academic career. The long path of study had begun with a clear awareness of God’s call. With the degrees behind me, I was now ready to make a name for myself in the scholarly world.
“Make a name for myself.” Only later would I see how that desire had worked a spiritual coup d’état in me. During the years of graduate study, I had unwittingly turned God’s call into a plan for me. Hunger for success had formed a kingdom in my head. It seemed so reasonable: scholars make names for themselves. Why shouldn’t I? I yearned for the same recognition they all had.
But when I couldn’t find an academic job anywhere, Charmaine and I found ourselves stuck in a 3½ year desert excursion, off-script and off-track. Kicking and screaming, I protested that deserts were for other people. But this no-exit situation became a forced fast. Without it I could never have glimpsed false hunger and the kingdom I had formed in my head. That kingdom was impeding God’s call. It wasn’t what God wanted. My life, and Charmaine’s and my life together, could not be about ‘making a name for me.’ For it to be shed, this distorted desire needed to be named. Without wilderness times, no one can be saved. Thank God for deserts. –Anthony Chvala-Smith, The Kingdoms in Our Heads
- When have you been confronted with false hunger? What “forced fasts” have brought perspective in your life?
- Where might your own “distorted desires” be impeding God’s call in your life now? What desert are you invited to enter, or stay in, to discover your deepest, truest hunger?
- Prayerfully dwell in Deuteronomy 32:10. Even in the desert times of life, how is God present with you and sustaining you?
by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin
Do not forget why you are here
And who called you to this place.
Do not let the fire for justice within you
Diminish to smoldering ash.
Walk tall and with strength
Gather up your courage and conviction
Along with your questions
And every unknown unresolved.
Do not let the despair temptation
Overwhelm your God-pulsing heart.
Do not resist the prophetic edge
That pierces our fear-vulnerable spaces
Which prefer to be safe.
Bring light by being light
In every darkness place you’re in.
No matter what happens from here
No matter the occasion for hopelessness
No matter the anxiety surrounding
Do not forget-
There IS a vision greater
There IS a Spirit moving
There IS a deeper yearning
That means something real.
There IS a God creating
And recreating still
Who continues to call out
In the caverns of your soul
From the very heart of a
Suffering, sacred world.
There is yet work to do.
Oneness means you already belong
In every place you are in.
There are innumerable ways
To respond to the
Deepest call in your heart
That brought you here.
It still matters.
It is still calling.
It is still longing to be lived.
This holy unfolding is not