I have walked in the desert – physically in Qatar, and spiritually. The chief loneliness of both deserts has been to see so large, unending a landscape, without meaningful markers, without boundaries: literally as large as life, for there appears no other.
To sit down (actually or metaphorically) and despair, is to be show something unexpected, and real. The endlessness is made up of grains of reality: tiny particles, each piled on another to create an entire landscape. There is no real ‘nothingness’ – and that understanding begins to change the perception of loss and emptiness.
It is a slow emergence of the sense of interest that sharpens all senses: here is the returning colour, here is the shape of something outlined by light, here is a tiny sign of life…
The different faces of Jesus – how many faces shall we feel driven to discover during this Lent? Shall we hold tightly to the comfortable, familiar, laughing Jesus – the one who celebrated at Canaa’s wedding feast, who slept peacefully in the company of his friends sailing across the Galilean sea, who was called a glutton by those scandalised that he would choose to eat and drink with ‘sinners’…. or seek and explore another face of Jesus, companion of the lost and those society had cast aside. He was no desert ascetic like his cousin John the Baptizer, his choice was not locusts and animal skins, but the good food and company of others.
Yet we may never doubt that he was tempted: those temptations to trade his ministry for the easy popularity of a public speaker; or to heed Peter’s demands that he should pass up the cup of his coming sacrifice: the ultimate temptation even to doubt God, as he hung in torment on the cross.
Tempted – but not sinning.
As we struggle – as we must – with doubts, and find more darkness than light, we can remember that Jesus kept faith – even in the lonely chaos of his temptation – holding the image of God, the understanding of presence, even in the long slow agony of death: crying out to the One who could never desert him.
In the dead of the night I lay awake, remembering his words as he hung on the cross, his body now resting in the tomb. I had been hovering at the back of the crowd, as I had during his interrogation earlier. Actually, I had followed him and his friends all over the countryside, listening to him. I don’t know why, but I can remember every word he spoke.
I cannot move as the dark clings tightly around me. Eyes open. I see nothing. I hear nothing. Except the pounding of my heart.
Warmth stirs through my cold body. Memories are stirred. His voice echoes throughout me.
“And those who hear will live.” My heartbeat breaks rhythm.
“Now he is God not of the dead but of the living, for to him all of them are alive.” I gasp for breath.
I see a flash of light; the wings of doves beating brightly against a clear blue sky the day he freed them from their cages. And I remember the words “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
My body trembles with anticipation for the morning. I am as yet too scared to resist the darkness around me. But I know. I know the smile that now breaks upon my lips is the herald of the joy to follow when the light of dawn pierces the dark of night. Freedom and life for all; living without barriers, without prejudice. I can hear the distant sound of loud- clanging cymbals, the whispering joy of strings and pipe.
The confusion and violence of the past days begins to yield to the call to respond. Not yet, but soon.