3 Things are forced to fade away in the desert, allowing it to become a privileged place of encounter with the Almighty.
Run to the desert! Our heavenly Father reveals the glory of his beloved son at our Blessed Lord’s baptism by John, and then straight away Jesus is thrown into the contest of temptation in the desert.
At first glance the desert may seem the place of struggle, the place of abandonment. Gazing at the arid dry wilderness of our lives may lead us to believe that God has left us; that he is far from us. However, over and over again in the Scriptures, God shows us that the desert, the place far away, the place of travail and combat, is the privileged place of encounter with God.
Moses is called by God with the appearance of the burning bush in the wilderness. Scripture says, “Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush” (Exodus 3:1-2). In this place, Moses receives the sacred name of God and is entrusted with the mission to lead the Isrealite people out of Egypt.
People of Israel
The people of Israel leave Egypt to go and worship God in the desert. Despite the struggles of needing food and water, the desert is the place where God gives to them his law and teaches them to worship. Scripture says, “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye. Marvelous deeds are worked for them in the desert” (Deut. 32:10). God, having chosen his people by the mysterious designs of his love, leads them to the desert, instructs them, and binds them to himself.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist begins his campaign for fasting, prayer, and baptism in the wilderness. The prophet Isaiah spoke of John, saying, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (Isaiah 40:3). By these means, a path is made, a safe passage, a ready way across difficult terrain, and hearts are readied to receive the Lord.
And now our Savior is led to the desert by the Holy Spirit to pray. It is there that Christ shows us the way to conquer the great temptations of our age. God, in his goodness, may choose to allow us to be tempted, but he will always sustain us if we turn to him.
Why is the desert such a special place? How could the place of temptation and struggle be the place of encounter? Why for centuries did Christian hermits and monks head out to the desert in search of God?
Entering the desert allows the distractions, deceptions, and divisions to fade away.
Entering the desert allows the distractions, deceptions, and divisions to fade away. When we let go of our distractions, we can focus on our relationship with God, on hearing the Lord speak. When we cast off the deceptions, the gentle lies we tell ourselves about who we are and who others are, then we can see our lives and our hearts as God sees them. The wilderness casts aside our divisions, making it necessary to band together to survive, allowing our politics and our divided hearts to be made one.
This Sunday, run to the desert of your heart to be with God. Let this Lent be a time of purification, of cleansing, of renewal. For we will not be abandoned in the desert. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite: it is there we will find God.