The wilderness can be a very scary place. It is a destination that busy people try to avoid. Interestingly, the rhythm of our liturgical calendar has a way of driving us into the wilderness on a reoccurring basis.
My own wilderness adventure happened several years ago while driving across a beautiful stretch of interstate running through the western slope of the Appalachian Mountains. In my eagerness to get home I foolishly began my cross-country jaunt without making any lodging reservations -- not a wise move during a Memorial Day weekend. To complicate matters, the state park that I had hoped to spend the night in was full.
Sensing my frustration, or perhaps realizing that I wasn’t going to find a place to stay for the night, the park ranger pointed at a dirt road at the far end of the campground and said: “See that road over there. That’s the access road to the Daniel Boone National Forest. It’s federal land. Just drive in, pull over, and pitch your tent for the night. It’ll be okay.”
Honestly, the wilderness can be a very scary place. Alone with my thoughts and my fears, the darkened and mysterious forest came alive that night in a way I never imagined. Every cracked twig, every sound of rustling leaves, and every distant howl conjured up images of wild beasts making a bee-line straight for my tent.
The journey into the frightening areas of our lives, our congregations, and our communities can be just as terrifying. The disciplines of reflection, communal prayer, and fasting affords each of us an opportunity to name and claim the coping mechanisms that we use to keep the “wild beasts” at bay -- the fears and the personal demons in our lives that we try so hard to bury, avoid, or compartmentalize.
Thank goodness for Lent. A time when we once again proclaim and trust the promise that God is with us and God is for us! Embrace the intentionality of Lent. Take advantage of the ancient spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Participate in ecumenical gatherings or consider hosting a Lenten luncheon at your church and invite the whole community to attend. After all, Lent, by its very nature, invites us to deliberately make our way to Golgotha together, to the place where Jesus is crucified.
Although we may hesitate to follow Jesus into the wilderness, the good news is that God is gracious and merciful. Besides, we don’t make the journey alone, for God is with us and God is for us! And because God desires to be in relationship with us, we trust that God meets us precisely where we dread to go and renders powerless everything that tries to separate us from the love of God and one another.