The Desert In and Among Us - Lent 2017
The Gospels speak of the Kingdom of God in us and congruently of the Kingdom of God among us. In a similar vein, we also encounter the desert not only among us, but primarily within us. The Kingdom will not be manifested among us unless its presence first makes itself felt within us. In a world hopelessly divided by colour and caste, creed and nationality we are often tempted to get away from it all and retreat into the wilderness like the Desert Fathers and Mothers for whom uniquely the desert was in proximity to the populated world. The sterile sand of the desert, jostled side by side with the rich black soil of the Nile Valley. It was an open invitation to the seeker wanting to disengage from the politicization of religion, experiencing the corruption that power brings with it, and fleeing from the “demons” of society only to experience those very demons within themselves. The desert within us harbours those very things that we abhor.
It is one of the many surprises of the desert that it throws up many mirages which briefly offer hope only to have it vanish into thin air. This is not too different from the gold and glitter that draw us to themselves, flattering so as to deceive so that the land of Shangri-La remains a Lost Horizon. The Book of Genesis reminds us that the Garden of Eden harbours within itself the seeds of destruction; the potential to lose all if we try to gain all; the certainty of being dispossessed if we try to possess; the sure prospect of death if we choose to walk away from the stream of LIFE itself.
The Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land was a way through the desert. But as Israel’s history unveils itself 40, which was initially a numerical quantity now becomes more a mathematical symbol that transcends time. The prophets of Israel seem to suggest that what was once a physical journey is now condensed into a process of inner transformation. that encompasses an ever present reality. It is now beyond time How else can we understand the prophet Isaiah when he says: “I the LORD will make rivers well up on barren heights and fountains in the midst of valleys; turn the wilderness into a lake and dry ground into water-spring. In the wilderness, I will put cedar trees, acacias, myrtles, olives. In the desert I will plant juniper, plane tree and cypress side by side.” (40:18-19) Viewed in this light, the Season of Lent is more than just a period of time. We often re-enact the ritual of 40 days as a time capsule. forgetting the reality of inner transformation that it represents. Outside a time-frame, a single moment of grace can transform our inner desert, welling forth springs of life. The very circumstances of our life that we once considered a desert begin to incorporate features of a Promised Land. All it takes is a change of vision. The kingdom within us, must first be experienced as the desert within us. Paradise must be “lost” before it is to be “regained” Jesus going into the desert represents his becoming incarnate with our own inner desert as well as its projection on to the world as we know it. There he offers us a new vision. Getting a new pair of spectacles must change our vision and not degenerate into a desire to be spectacular, wanting to win the approval of others. Nor is it the desire to see oneself as relevant, the desire to “make a difference” in people’s lives. Lastly, it is anything but the power to control not only our own lives and those of others. How true it is that the “cataract” that impedes our vision is also another name for a “waterfall” the tears of repentance that allow us to see with the “eye of the heart”. In solidarity with the first Adam, we lost our vision, Paradise was lost; it became a desert. In solidarity with the Second Adam, we regain our vision The desert is transformed; Paradise is regained. Just as Eden carried within itself the prospect or death the desert too carries within itself the prospect of life, if only we will allow the LORD to open our eyes. “Today, I set before you, Life and Death.
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