Last fall—last summer? last spring? last spring—I picked up “wilderness” from Scripture and started rolling it around in my mind. If it were an actual stone, it would be smooth by now… almost to a marble’s slickness.
Wilderness: the ancient place of chaos, where anything might happen, where death was more likely than life. Jesus’ challenges from the adversary? In wilderness. John (the baptist), he of the uncured skin outfits, lived on the edge of wilderness. Abraham, our patriarch, chased Sarah’s bondservant Hagar, and Ishmael (his son with Hagar), into the wilderness. All three of them understood it as a death sentence… eventually.
I picked it up because it gleamed when I looked at it. At the time, I asked myself: why on earth does wilderness draw you in this way? You are never happy in chaos!
I answered myself: yes, that’s true. Yes, this is complex. I will study on it when I take some space for complexity.
And didn’t. But held on to my wilderness-stone, and rolled it around some more.
While rolling wilderness around, I kept remembering my Ignatian retreat time. Pulled out Montserrat’s schedule, because somehow the gleam of wilderness tied back into days of silence and solitariness. Yet I was continually unwilling to reserve a space, to put my money into it… why?
This feels complex. I will study on it when I take some time for complexity.
I picked up my wilderness-stone again today, rolled it around while driving between the satisfying things I engaged in today—class, connecting with a friend (TWO different ones!), restocking the pantry. It’s too complex for my usual practice of ‘write while driving,’ though*. I had to sit down. To look around.
Throughout the Bible, the wilderness is a place of preparation; a place of overcoming temptation; a place that God leads many people to, including Jesus before he began his public ministry. The retreat will give us an opportunity to reflect on moments of wilderness from the Old and New Testaments, and also the desert places in our own lives.
—from Sacred Space‘s 2018 Lenten Retreat
In Scripture, wilderness may be where chaos dominates, but it’s also empty of people. As is (in some respects) an Ignatian retreat. Pulling away attracts me… but my logical mind is skeptical. After all, on weekdays from 7am to 6pm I am only with people as much as I choose to be. I don’t have to travel to have silence. In fact, I’m in human-silence right now.
Wilderness as preparation? As a place to gather energy, and hone purpose? Perhaps that’s the part of Montserrat’s silence I keep eyeing. A place where there’s nothing else to do but hone purpose… or to sit beside myself as I sit beside Christ, listening to cicadas and re-feeling old emotions.
In 2017, my word for the year was expectant. For 2018, my word is fruit—which I didn’t believe at first, because it was such a tidy sequel I thought my artfulness inserted it. Fruit of what, you may ask? You and me both, since there’s the Fruits of the Spirit, the fruit-like products that creatives generate, the essential berries of winter I observed on my Epiphany walks…
I’ve taken nine months to ‘get around to’ spending time enough to decipher my wilderness-stone, my yearning… a deciphering that clicks into expectant too sharply to be believed. Now that I’m reflecting, I may have missed my mark, since it’s no longer 2017.
But I’ve spent enough chairos in my chronos to drop that ‘too late!’ fretting… there is no ‘too late,’ there is only this time. Now I am sitting here on Shrove Tuesday, making a point of self-examination, squinting interestedly at a Lenten devotional that’s all about wilderness. As the retreat/devotional creators say, I will say alongside them:
We hope that you will encounter the Lord in a new and profound way and that that encounter may have a transforming effect in your own life. We also hope that you’ll come to a deepened awareness of God at work in your life.
May it be so.
*W-w-d is a mental activity, people! I am not scribbling while aiming a car at 65mph. I can’t read my handwriting when I write that way.