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?
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” –John 6:35, NRSV
Lent has begun. What should we do? Jesus didn’t get a free pass on the desert. Luke says the Holy Spirit led him there. He didn’t resist the wilderness; he chose it. The liturgical calendar wisely gives us space to follow him on our own little 40–day trip to the spiritual hinterlands. For a short time we get to go without. Scarcity is a useful tool for smoking out the latest kingdom in our heads. Better, fasting from what we want is a means of grace that recalls us to the real kingdom: the Reign of God preached and embodied in Jesus Christ.
Let whoever is hungry come.–Anthony Chvala-Smith, The Kingdoms in Our Heads
- How are you invited to choose the wilderness this Lenten season?
- What spiritual gifts are available when you intentionally “go without?” What invitation may be present in scarcity?
- Prayerfully dwell in John 6:35. What is God’s invitation to you in this text? For what do you truly hunger?
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?