From the dawn of recorded history, the dry, barren desert has been a place of formation for God’s people---both as individuals and as a community of believers. Some encountered God there, while others were spiritually born or re-born there. We recall the generations spent in the desert by the Israelites after being freed from slavery in Egypt. Their desert experience formed them into a special people. Jesus too was led into the desert where he encountered both evil and goodness, and after his ordeal, emerged with clarity and urgency, certain of his mission.
We often find ourselves on a desert detour. Life experiences can create a dry period when our lives lack meaning, and we struggle to find purpose and direction. Some deserts are of our own making, when our journey takes a detour and we realize we made a wrong turn. At other times, a desert experience can provide us with sacred space, where we clearly see our path and find the courage to continue our journey in the right direction. It is at these times that our desert wanderings provide us the needed diversion to get us back on track.
Lent promotes a desert experience by calling us to prayer, fasting and almsgiving as guides in our search for God. It is important to embrace these Lenten practices with the proper focus. We do not fast during Lent because fasting is good for our health, like a workout in the gym. Rather, fasting interrupts our ability to eat whenever and whatever we wish and reminds us of the many who fast involuntarily in a world where feast and famine are neighbors. We give alms for the same reason---to increase our awareness of the poverty of others, and to become more detached from things and more focused on God. The prayers we offer during Lent are often prayers of repentance and reparation. This focus is important, but prayer must direct us toward our chief spiritual focus: bringing the image of Jesus to perfection within us.
Our yearly Lenten desert experience nurtures our quest for God, not because he is lost or forgotten, but because we have yet another chance to find him and deepen our relationship with him. To seek God becomes our greatest adventure; to find him our greatest achievement, and to fall in love with him our greatest romance. Many of us spend too much time looking for God in the wrong places. The late Cardinal Avery Dulles, Jesuit theologian and author, believed that “theologically, it is correct to say that the very desire to find God is evidence that God is drawing us to himself. To find him, in the last analysis, is to be found by him.”
As we begin our Lenten journey, we look forward to rediscovering God. Lent is designed for that purpose. So we begin our search again, knowing that discovery will be easier if we fill our minds with prayer, renew our efforts to share, and keep our stomachs less full. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that no matter where in our desert travel we find ourselves, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, your God.” [Jeremiah 29:12-14.]
----Deacon Wilson Shierk