Isaiah 35v1 ‘The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom’
Last week I spoke about the wilderness as a metaphor as well as a physical place. Wilderness can be a word to describe how we feel about our present circumstances or even life itself. Maybe we feel bored or isolated, empty of new ideas or stuck in a rut? The surprising thing about the (physical) wilderness is that after rain it can suddenly burst into life and so it is with the spiritual life. When we come to the end of our tether, when we are utterly exhausted, we sometimes discover that the frustration becomes a gift for it reveals we cannot go on living in a certain way. It is literally killing us. Perhaps we are slaves to the opinions or approval of others? Maybe we have overworked to earn money for a lifestyle that exhausts us in the process?
It disturbs me that much current Methodist writing seems to focus on what Methodists should be doing. It seems to take for granted that we have the energy and enthusiasm to challenge injustice and share good news with our neighbour. Personally, I’m not so sure. Could it be that deep down there is a wilderness within that makes us feel lack and fear rather than energy and positivity? That there are deep seated personal issues that need to be addressed if we are to address the social? I am not for a moment saying that we should be passive Christians, but I am very aware that effective action and witness often lie in the passion of the people involved. They don’t need to be told to care; they engage with others simply because they care!
Listening to the wind howling outside the window this morning I am reminded that the idea of wilderness is more than something personal. It matters from top to bottom, the global to the individual. If millions of us place consumption and personal freedom above the good of the planet we start to affect our climate. The desert within our souls that leads us to restless consumerism manifests itself as an increasing desert in the environment. This is an issue that affects us all, or to re-purpose a feminist slogan of the 1970s, the personal is political too.
I would love to say that the idea that the idea of wilderness as a metaphor as well as a place is my own personal discovery. Sadly, it is not but was born in the personal pain of an Anglican clergyman writing in the 1960’s. The author in question, Harry Williams, wrote from the anguish of coming to terms with his family background and the discovery that he was gay in a world where not only homosexual acts were illegal, but homophobia was as rife as in some of the most illiberal states in the world today. From the author’s pain and fourteen years of psychotherapy following a breakdown came a slow realisation that God’s love meets us where we are, as we are, not where we might hope to be in some alternative universe that does not really exist.
This Lent we have set before us the picture of a Jesus led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Jesus struggles in the wilderness just as we do. Yet the wilderness becomes a place of incredible fruitfulness from which Jesus emerges ready to engage with the world in the power of the Spirit. Dare we believe this could be true for us too? That the very place of pain and struggle could yet be the place of new life? By the grace of God may that be our experience too.
With love from us both,
Will & Pat x