Upon my bed at night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
“I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
–Song of Solomon 3:1-2, NRSV
To experience the absence of God is also to experience God’s presence. So did the sparseness and bare simplicity of the desert strip Jesus of all but the most essential truths of his life? Did the lack of water, did his thirst, did his hunger reveal to Jesus a deeper thirst and a more driving hunger? Did it show him the deepest desire of his heart, to live as God’s Beloved to the fullest potential of his divine humanity? Did he discover that it mattered more to him to encounter a Living God than to limit his experience of God to moments of comfortable and comforting emotions? Did Jesus experience God’s absence in the wilderness as another face of God’s presence? And did his experience of Absent Presence sustain him for what lay ahead?
During this season of Lent, I simply invite you to test these possibilities against the realities of your own life. When and where has the hidden presence of God been revealed in your wilderness times of desert barrenness? –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes
- When has absence revealed to you what really matters?
- When and where has the hidden presence of God been revealed in your wilderness times of desert barrenness?
- Prayerfully dwell with Song of Solomon 3:1-2. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?
He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
it flowed through the desert like a river.
–Psalm 105:41, NRSV
When you enter Death Valley, this place of no water, and gaze out across the valley floor, one of the first things you notice are entrances to canyon after hidden canyon marked by huge rock fans, the deposits of countless, raging flash floods that arose abruptly and swept masses of rock and debris along with them. Alluvial deposits, one after another, march into the distance down the length of the valley, lapping one another like scales on a dragon’s back. They bear mute witness to the powerful shaping presence of water, a lot of it, suddenly present with unstoppable force.
The bare rocks, in places with names like Golden Canyon and Artist’s Palette, are remnants of an upturned ancient seabed. These outcroppings are exposed with exquisite clarity throughout the desert, continually created, shaped, and revealed by the unique interaction of water influencing the landscape, not just for short periods of time, but over thousands of millennia.
There is a high point in the park, a place called Dante’s View (aptly named, presumably, after the writer of the classic Inferno which chronicles a journey through the nine circles of Hell). From this mountaintop visitors look down onto the lowest point in the United States. What one sees are salt pans left over from dried up lake beds, remnants of the water that collects when the rain does happen to fall. The contoured shades of blue, tan, and white create the illusion that you are looking down on an ocean’s coastline, abundant with water, from thousands of feet in the air – instead of at the floor of a dried up desert. Here the apparent presence of water is a mirage, at best a reminder of what appears to be there, but is actually not. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes
- Pay attention to your inner landscape. How have you been shaped by the force of what has come before?
- How does the Lenten desert clarify your illusions and mirages?
- Prayerfully dwell with Psalm 105:41. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?
“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. –1 Kings 19:11-13, NRSV
Nighttime in the desert is as still and quiet as you could ever hope to find, a silence broken only by human activity. The usual night sounds one experiences outdoors – the rustle of wind in tree branches, the rushing sound of water tumbling over the boulders of a mountain stream, the stealthy movements of night-loving animals – are virtually absent. The nature of life in the deep desert is different, much more subdued, a signal of the lack of something, the apparent absence of that which sustains life: water. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes
- How does a different landscape awaken you to the absence of what is normally present? What is absent in your interior landscape this Lent?
- Pay attention to what you would normally see, experience, and hear in your daily life. What would you notice lacking if, for a time, you entered a space as “still and quiet as you could ever hope to find?”
- Prayerfully dwell with 1 Kings 19:11-13. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?