We talk about deserts very lightly – but then if we stop to think, our fears are very close – what if we run out of petrol, water, there is no satellite coverage? – then what? We are not equipped for deserts, neither physically or emotionally. We have to drive for HOURS before we find a place which speaks to us of awe and grandeur – and that was in the guidebook anyway.
Yet for thousands of years people walked into the desert to be closer to their God. Maybe they put on a stronger pair of sandals and a thicker cloak – but that was it. Women went too. Alone, quite often – or sometimes with an unwanted excess child. The combination of their physical and emotional preparedness with the strength of their belief was their companion.
Of course we are close to such people – but not all that close.
Our temptations are fairly minor ones, most of the time – unless we are trying to give up smoking or coffee or heroin – or fighting to wear a smile because our beloved spouse has just died.
But inside our houses, inside our towns or cities there are sounds and sights; we can listen to music, watch a movie, so when the dead weight of sorrow falls or the feet start walking to get that packet of cigarettes we can look at something or tune into a YouTube clip on our phones until the moment passes. If it doesn’t pass, we can ring a friend or just go and lie down and sleep on our own soft bed.
We are not in a desert.
Wrestling with our own devils isn’t so easy but we get to do it in an easy environment with everything on tap. Even most prison cells have bathroom facilities – a lot have televisions. All have beds. Yet with all this ease, we don’t do too well either.
Maybe we read the lines about the temptations a touch glibly and if we thought in the terms just set out, we might as a community, see how it must have been – that person grew up in a village where He knew everyone’s name. When He woke every morning He knew who or what was making every sound around Him. By the time He was around eight or nine if He wanted, He could walk 25 kilometres and spend all day fishing in the Sea of Galilee with His friends.
He liked familiar places, sounds, food just as everyone else does. He enjoyed fellowship and participated in community life as was expected of Him. The desert didn’t start just down the bottom of the road. He had quite a walk to get there. He wasn’t asked to go –nor had He done anything to be forced to flee there. And when He got there, between His own thoughts and those other thoughts, there was only Himself.
How are we all doing? Rejoicing in familiarity? In community? Being conscious of these gifts in the deserts we make for ourselves? Or fearing some old family quarrel or some work problem? The desert isn’t at the bottom of our street either. It is inside us no matter what we sacrifice these forty days – unless we stop every instant to check where we are and where He is.
~ Jane Elliot