A Long Forty Days

The season of Lent is the forty days before Easter. It originates with the story of Jesus fasting for forty days in the wilderness, where he’s tempted by the devil. Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell the story, though their details vary a bit. For most people, Lent is a time for reflection and self-examination, a time for finding solitude, a “wilderness” time, following Jesus’ example. We might even fast like Jesus, or at least give something up for Lent. Once we’ve had our pancake supper on the last day before Lent, of course. Ah, traditions.

I’m feeling a little different this year. Like me, you might be feeling a little like this is still Lent of 2020, a little like we’ve been having a “wilderness” time for two years now. By the way, in the Bible, the number forty doesn’t necessarily mean exactly forty anything, it’s shorthand for “a long time.” And it’s been a long time, with lock downs, masks, sanitizer, and all the protocols designed to protect us, but which also isolate us and disconnect us from the daily life we knew.

Isn’t that the point of what Jesus was doing, though? I think he went into the wilderness to find himself – the testing or tempting is just a way to describe Jesus coming to terms with who he was, so that he could face the world.  In order to do that, the wilderness he needed was simply a place where everyday life was not. The story makes it a geographical desert, but for you and me it might not need to be that. It could be a living room, a house, an apartment, a garden. It could have been any place where we can disconnect from the everyday.

And, while the story says Jesus is tested the whole time, Luke and Matthew give three specific “temptations” from the devil at the end, kind of to sum things up: food, power and safety. Each time, Jesus responds with trust in God. It’s as if the temptations are the earthly stuff our human selves value, the very thing Jesus went to the desert to get away from, the very things that ought to be governed by love, not the other way round. Love before stuff, Jesus seems to say. Then he leaves the wilderness behind and begins to live it in his ministry.

I don’t imagine for a minute that the wilderness – or wildernesses, depending on how you experienced it – of the last two years was welcome, or that we necessarily all made use of it rather than simply experienced it and survived it. Many were able to engage the time, many adjusted, but just as many struggled with loneliness and grieved the loss of life, even the end of life.

So this year, I’m trying to see Lent as an opportunity to spring back to life. The word “Lent,” after all, is derived from a word meaning the “lengthening of days” or even “spring season.” The earth is coming back to life and so should we. What has been resting is ready to appear, it’s waiting for the snow to turn to water, the ground to warm and the sun to shine, and it’s making its way to the surface, to emerge and blossom. What if you thought of your life like a garden, rather than a desert? How would you nourish it, care for it and help it grow? How would you prepare for the summer days which lie ahead?

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