reating a desert space in our overcrowded lives is a way to empty ourselves of false pride, rationalizations that prevent us from seeing ourselves as needy creatures and "perfectionist" tendencies that blind us to the "beam" in our own eyes.
In the gospel we read that after Jesus was baptized "the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him" (Mark 1:12-13). Where else but the desert could you have such a meaningful encounter of the Holy Spirit as well as Satan, of the wild beasts as well as the holy angels? The desert was the school where Jesus came to distinguish between the voice of God which he should follow and the voice of Satan which is temptation. How many voices do we hear from the moment we get up in the morning till the moment we go to sleep at night? The countless voices in the daily paper, the soliciting voices on the radio and the television, the voices of those who live and work with us, not forgetting our own unceasing inner voices. In the desert we leave most of these voices behind to focus on distinguishing between the guiding voice of God and the tempting voice of Satan.
In the desert we come to know ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, and our divine calling. In the desert Jesus encountered beasts and angels. There are wild beasts and angels in every one of us. Sometimes, owing to our superficial self knowledge, we fail to recognize the wild beasts in us and give in to vainglory, or we fail to recognize the angel in us and give in to self-hatred. But in the silence and recollection of the desert we come to terms with ourselves as we really are, we are reconciled with the beasts and the angels in our lives and then we begin to experience peace again for the first time. Lent is the time for the desert experience. We cannot all afford to buy a camel and head off for the desert.
But we can all create a desert space in our overcrowded lives. We can set aside a place and time to be alone daily with God, a time to distance ourselves from the many noises and voices that bombard our lives every day, a time to hear God's word, a time to rediscover who we are before God, a time to say yes to God and no to Satan as Jesus did.
How do we do this? Our life style must balance comfort with challenge - the need to take care with the need to take risks. In other words, when we begin to truly say Yes to God, our attitude ties in with the words of Christ, "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. The man who loves his life loses it, while the man who hates his life in this world preserves it to life eternal." (John 12: 24-25). This means that our life presently is not a destination but an individual journey that must be seen in the light of God's purposes for each of us and that we must be accountable for whatever we do along the way.
Secondly, when we say Yes to God, our way of life begins to be anchored on Christ Jesus who faced death in order to give us life in abundance. The prophet Isaiah explains to us and insists that fasting without changing our behavior is not pleasing to God. "This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own" (Isaiah 58:6-7). Is this is a prescription for Lent? I think so
Perhaps during this Lenten season, we should stop praying for others as if we are virtuous enough to do so. Perhaps we should take off our righteous robes just long enough during these 40 days to put ashes on our own heads, to come before God with a new humility and willing to confess, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." Maybe we should be willing to prostrate ourselves before God and plead, "Lord, in my hand no price I bring; simply to the cross I cling." That might put us in a position to hear God in ways that we have not heard Him in a long time. I think creating a desert space in our overcrowded lives may be the beginning of a healing for which we have so longed in our personal lives and for the world around us.