Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that begins the period in the church calendar known as Lent.
As a younger Christian, I did not respect much of the older church “traditions,” for they seemed dead to me. And, no doubt, some of them can be. But I’ve found the rituals (or rhythms) of the traditional (or historic) church to be very helpful in our present-day, including my own walk with God.
Hence, my appreciation now for Lent.
Lent is a time marked out by the church to focus on reflective prayer and different avenues of fasting, all to prepare for remembering the death of Christ on the cross and his overcoming death through resurrection. The cross, the upside-down, unique way in which the power and wisdom of God are expressed. Christ’s walking out of the grave, showing himself as the conquering one over the final enemy, death.
I’ve recently begun slowly reading through Thomas Merton’s Thoughts In Solitude. I found some stirring words about the desert:
The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men. The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted by men because it offered them nothing. There was nothing to attract them. There was nothing to exploit. The desert was the region in which the Chosen People had wandered for forty years, cared for by God alone. They could have reached the Promised Land in a few months if they had travelled directly to it. God’s plan was that they should learn to love Him in the wilderness and that they should always look back upon the time in the desert as the idyllic time of their life with Him alone.
The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert is therefore the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself – that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his Creator. (pp4-5)
Very appropriate words to reflect upon as we enter Lent.
And, to provide another space for meditation, watch this short video below (maybe tomorrow), which captures in picture form what it might have been like for Jesus to spend his 40 days in the wilderness, the desert.