Wilderness: a place to prepare

Not by Bread Alone by Michael Dudash

Matthew 14:23 (NRSV)
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.

Jim Harnish defines “the wilderness as the barren space between where we’ve been and where we are going; the empty place between a familiar, comfortable past and an unfamiliar, often risky future. It’s the place where we, like Jesus, are tempted to find some short cut to get to Easter without going through Lent; to leap ahead to the future without dealing with the very normal feelings of anxiety, sadness, loss, or fear that are always a part of every change or transition in our lives.”

On more than one occasion Jesus withdrew to deserted places to pray. Perhaps they reminded him of the wilderness experience that launched his ministry. There too life was seen and tempted in its elemental simplicity. Where the tempter sought to redefine life’s basic elements as fame and security and a full belly, Jesus discerned the exquisite but taxing simplicity of faithfulness to God in the absence of abundance… Jesus’ withdrawal perhaps has less to do with escaping ministry and more to do with seeking the strength to reengage and keep perspective. Simplify. Simplify.
– John Indermark, Traveling the Prayer Paths of Jesus

To thirst for God is to desire God; it is to know that God is essential. Sometimes we have to be in the wilderness before we recognize our thirsts, our desires. The Bible speaks of wilderness as a place of testing, trial, emptiness, absence. The rabbis called the wilderness the school of the soul. In the wilderness we discover the essential.
Kenneth H. Carter Jr., Pray for Me

If you therefore go to the desert to be rid of all the dreadful people and all the awful problems in your life, you will be wasting your time. You should go to the desert for a total confrontation with yourself. For one goes to the desert to see more and to see better. One goes to the desert especially to take a closer look at the things and people one would rather not see, to face situations one would rather avoid, to answer questions one would rather forget. – Alessandro Pronzato, Meditations on the Sand

The desert sometimes issues its own invitation: “Come! Enter into my silence, my uncluttered solitude, my stark beauty, and I will show you depths of your own soul you never knew you had. Come and listen to the Holy One who speaks within, tells you that you are loved, and clarifies your call to service. Come and find strength; let grace encompass you; let go of the baggage; and wait simply for God.”
– Elizabeth J. Canham, A Table of Delight: Feasting with God in the Wilderness

In the spiritual tradition, wilderness is the place where we leave the world behind and place ourselves at God’s disposal. – Daniel Wolpert, Leading a Life with God

The word “presence” is a relational term. The real Presence is offered in the Eucharist, but if we don’t know how to be present to the Presence there is no presence; certainly no “real” presence that can change you. What we’re doing in contemplation is learning, quite simply, how to be present. We’re learning how to access what is — and how to offer ourselves to it. – Richard Rohr

Somehow we know that without silence, words lose their meaning; that without listening, speaking no longer heals; that without distance, closeness cannot cure. Somehow we know that without a solitary place, our actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the spiritual life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.
– Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit

I wonder if we are afraid of being silent. Do we fear that if we suspend words and thoughts the world will stop or something terrible might happen to us? … Are we afraid that if we practice this kind of prayer, we might discover our falsehoods and pretenses? Maybe our brokenness and vulnerability would be exposed. These fears can seem terrifying, but they should not deter us. God is above us, below us, beside us, and within us. And we know from the revelation of God in Christ that this God loves us. We need not be afraid. So the purpose of contemplative prayer is to listen, to be loved, and to love. The purpose is not to get what we need or what we think we need but to allow God to commune with us and communicate grace and goodness in the deepest part of our being. – Daniel Vestal, Being the Presence of Christ: A Vision for Transformation

If we picture all the obstructions between us and God as a wilderness, Lent presents us with time to clear and cultivate a part of that wilderness, to create an open space in it. In this newly opened space, we may live more freely and commune more closely with the divine. We can transform this wilderness and make it our home, our garden, a place that invites God in and asks God to stay.
Sarah Parsons, A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent

Matthew 4:1-4 (NIV)
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

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Be sure to also check out Jan Richardson’s post, Where the Breath Begins

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