The Wilderness

(6/1/2013) "In the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place" (Deuteronomy 1:31)

The wilderness can be a frightening and dangerous place. Off the beaten path, it is beyond the reach of government protection or community support. The early Israelites stumbled through the wilderness for 40 yearsÖ hungry and thirsty, frightened and alone, they faced powerful temptations to turn away from the God who rescued them from slavery, seldom realizing that God carried them through the most difficult times.

The wilderness takes on many forms. Sometimes it is a desolate desert. The heat pounds down on us, mirages of water tempt us to go in the wrong direction. Sometimes it is a dark place, filled with shadows. Those shadows reach out, covering the light. Unseen dangers lurk hidden from sight, but never hidden from our imaginations.

For Noah, the wilderness was miles and miles of water. First there was the steady rain, day after day after day, ferociously rocking the boat filled with terrified creatures. No sign of sun, no sign of hope. And then, after 40 day and 40 nights, the watery wilderness became even more frightening. The rain finally ended and all he could see was clear blue skies and waterÖ water as far as the eye could see.

John chose the wilderness to baptize and offer renewal. After he was baptized by John, Jesus retreated even deeper into the wilderness, surrounded by wild beasts. Tested by Satan, his wilderness experience prepared him for the hardships of his ministry.

Part of what makes the wilderness so frightening is that we have to face it alone. No matter what it looks like, in the wilderness, we are cut off from our community: no one to cheer us on; no one to hold us when we are scared; no one to reach out and touch our hand. In the wilderness, we are truly alone.

We all face the wilderness sometime in our livesÖ and many of us return to the wilderness over and over again. The wilderness can be dirty city streets, with threats of violence around every corner. The wilderness can be found in war zones, surrounded by enemy fire or in a small town swamped by fire that ravages homes and businesses. The wilderness can take the form of addiction, domestic violence, financial problems, bulliesÖ the wilderness can be found anywhere - even in our homes. When we enter the wilderness, we face hidden fears that can strike us anywhere.

When you are in the wilderness, you can only take what you have. Noah and Jesus had the promises given to them from God. Noah was sent out with a clear mission, build the boat, take the animals. No matter how terrifying those days on the water might have been, Noah could go back and remember the clear plan that God had laid before him (Genesis 6-8).

Jesus had the baptismal promises. A voice from heaven calling out: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11) No matter how many challenges Jesus faced, he had those words echoing around him, giving him strength.

Most of us donít have direct encounters with God before we find ourselves stranded in the wilderness. We donít have the memory of the seas or the skies parting for us, and we feel completely alone, even when we are surrounded by others.

But it is important to remember that we do have each other. Even though the wilderness can be very lonelyÖ a place, by definition, isolated from our community. Yet, we do have our experiences with each other, and we carry those memories with us. In the wilderness, as shadows creep and the mirages fool us, we can remember. We can remember the touch of a hand when we feel aloneÖ we can remember the prayers spoken on our behalfÖ we can remember the touch of the bread on our lips and the taste of the wine on our tongue. All that we do for each other in the name of Christ is what we need to survive our time in the wilderness. And, when you finally emerge from the wilderness, you will be stronger and more prepared for the hard work that lies ahead. And, as we take our first tentative steps out of the darkness, we realize that we have never been truly alone. Godís presence endures in even the darkest times.

And, you can find signs of Godís presence all around us, just as meaningful as the dove or the rainbow. When the World Trade Center buildings collapsed on September 11, 2001, early responders found a miracle in their midst. In the debris was an intact cross beam jutting up towards the skyÖ the perfect shape of a cross in the midst of desolation.

A grief-exhausted excavator named Frank Silechhia found it just two days after the terrorist attacks. A few days later, he spoke to a Franciscan priest named Father Brian Jordan, who was blessing remains at Ground Zero.

"Father, you want to see Godís House?" he asked. "Look over there."

"Oh my God," Father Brian said. "I see it."

That cross has been a source of healing and blessing for those who continued to work and pray at ground zero. Fr. Brian Jordan declared it to be a "symbol of hope... [a] symbol of faith... [a] symbol of healing" It is a symbol that stands today and will continue to stand at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. A visible of the hope found Godís loving presence (Stephen McKinley, Irish Echo, August 28-September 03, 2002)

We can all emerge for our wilderness stronger than ever. When Noah leaves his watery wilderness, God makes a promise to all the generations. In the sign of the rainbow, we remember Godís promise of faithfulness and love.

When Jesus leaves the wilderness, he proclaims the "good news". News that is good because it announces the beginning of Godís new reign. In the sign of the cross, we receive Godís eternal promise of salvation and new life.

Turn around and look at your life from a new perspective, from the shadow of the cross not the shadows of the wilderness. Turn around, so you can see the places that need renewal and change, and believe. Turn around and trust the God who will guide us on this journey and beyond.

Today we are on a common journey. It begins in the wilderness continues up a hill in Calgary and ends in the glorious light of resurrection. We carry with us the love of each other, the gospel message and the promises we make to God today. We are sent out to proclaim the good news of Godís reign on earth: "Get up!" we should say. "Change your life around to be a reflection of Godís good love." And why should we do this? Because as sure as we are that Godís rainbow will stretch across the sky after a storm, Godís Holy Reign is coming!