Friday, March 6, 2009

On the Wild Side

This homily considers the story in Mark 1:9-15

Jesus is in the desert, a dry wilderness with here and there an oasis with some desert species of tree or shrub, and perhaps a spring. For forty days he will be there, led there, commanded to go there by the Spirit of God. At Jesus’s baptism, God has announced loud and clear how proud and pleased he is by Jesus—so this wilderness adventure is all about growing into that love.

This story is where Lent comes from. Lent, our own forty days of adventure, growing into the love of God.

And apparently it takes a wilderness to raise an adventure.

Barbara, our organist and choir director, tells me that her daughter, Andrea, will soon undertake a wilderness adventure in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Juniors at Holderness, the school she attends, are expected to complete an eleven-day experience in wilderness camping—four of those days in complete solitude.

Imagine: three days, four nights, no Ipod, no books, no magazines. Army-issue boots, a few matches, the right clothing, a tarp (no tent), and not another person to be seen for four days. A whistle is also part of the kit, in case of emergency (while out of sight, other campers are within hearing).

Four days, and the adventure is all about paying attention to every detail of life around you:

How the wind moves, and the weather
The birds and creatures, their sounds and silence
Textures, colors, smells, all become important
How you relate to things that would normally cause no interest, like branches
and stones and dew and tracks in the snow: (Are they speaking to you?)

And inside you? There’s the real adventure, to pay attention to the truth of what you’re experiencing:

Are you feeling the power of all that is wild and beyond your control?
You’re alone: what do you do with your solitude?
Can you let yourself feel your fear, can you learn from it?
Who are you talking to, with no one there?
But you’re in a conversation,aren’t you? With whom?
Is that some part of you? (Is that God?)
When you walk through wilderness, you pass things by. When you live in
wilderness, can you feel yourself becoming one with that enormous life
all around you?
And how long before you’re in an argument? With yourself? With voices and
ideas and memories that have come along with you?

Now imagine being in the wild, like Andrea in the White Mountains, not four days but forty. That’s the great adventure wherein Jesus’s power is made sharp and pure by testing. He doesn’t run, he doesn’t hide. He pays attention, full time, to all that is around him and all that is within him.

That’s what we need him to do for us. And that’s how we get the Savior we have, precisely this way, by his wilderness testing. It’s how his powers were claimed, purified, focused.

That’s worth remembering, when we’re out in the thin places of our own wilderness.

There’s where our Lent of forty days comes from, and while ours cannot be as big an adventure as our Lord’s, his story tells us what Lent is for: paying attention in fresh ways to the vast life around us, and the enormous life within us. Listening for God. Not hiding, not running, from testing. Growing stronger in the power of love.