The Wilderness: A Time of Transformation
- Tuesday, March 7, 2017
- By Father Robin Ruder-Celiz
I wonder what it must have been like for Jesus to be in the Wilderness. I wonder why he went into the Wilderness in the first place. When I was a lot younger our favorite vacation spot as a family was on the beach on the Eastern side of South Africa. The beach was sandy with plenty of space to sun tan, build sand castles or go for walks. The ocean was wide and vast with rolling waves that crashed along the shore. The beach was for us a place where we were away from home and the familiarity and pressures that came with work, school and life in Johannesburg. Stress and anxiety melted away as it does when one is truly on vacation.
On one occasion my dad, brother and I went on a walk along the beach as we often did. We had been walking for some time and came upon an area that had lots of sand dunes. We had tremendous fun walking along the dunes and sliding down their banks. Just before we decided to make our way back the wind picked up. It picked up a lot and began to blow up the sand into our faces. I will never forget how much the sand stung as it pelted against the skin and got into our eyes. In an instant we were blinded. It didn’t seem to matter how we tried to manage the wind and sand. Walking backwards, keeping an eye on land marks, nothing seemed to make the situation better and there was no sign of the wind letting up. We felt alone, desperately alone and disorientated, just the three of us. We clung to each other, slowly but surely making our way back along the beach to the path that led away from the sand and wind. An oasis of rest and calm had suddenly become a place of fear, uncertainty and pain with no end in sight.
The wilderness can be like that. It is a place of disorientation, fear and uncertainty with no end in sight. Almost everyone, including Jesus, feels the desperation and abandonment sink into our beings like it has never done before. It is easy, too easy for us to feel discouraged and begin to lose hope.
The wilderness is not a place we would ordinarily choose willingly. We find ourselves stumbling into this place quite by accident and happenstance. We are, almost always, like Jesus, led into the wilderness. We are led not by others or by choice but rather by the Holy Spirit. Our Gospel today starts with Jesus being led into the wilderness by the Spirit. We are moved and coerced into this place of discomfort, a place we don’t really want to be. Why?
Sometimes, almost always to be honest, we need to be taken out of our comfort zones and the familiarity of our surroundings to be able to hear the small, still voice of God. There is a lot going on with us and around us in the wilderness. Once we realize where we are and how much we don’t want to be there it is tempting to find ways of getting out; to end this ordeal early and as quickly as possible. Who could blame us? Who would really want to prolong an uncomfortable ordeal any longer than they have to or can get away with?
The Wilderness is a holy time as it is a time of transition and transformation. The wilderness is used by God to speak to us, change and shape us for a new adventures and possibilities in the world. When we think about it, times of transition and change or wilderness often come just before a new opportunity emerges for us. The end of one job and the beginning of another, the start of a new relationship, birth, death and all points in between are marked with transition or wilderness time. This is a holy time and place where God is at work in us even if we can’t recognize God’s presence.
So when we find ourselves being led into the wilderness let us hold onto the understanding that God is ultimately in control and will lead us through this time to a new place in our lives and faith. Scripture reminds us that very shortly after Jesus returns from the wilderness he continues his ministry by calling disciples to follow him and where he goes up the mountain and shares with those gathered that great sermon known as the Beatitudes. The wilderness is a journey where when we come to the end we find clarity, purpose and the very hand of God in our lives and the lives of those around us.