Imagine that someone has provided you with a mini desert in a sand tray. Run your fingers through the dry dusty surface and think of the empty open spaces the feeling evokes.
Open spaces away from the constant demands of daily living, family and friends. Away from the immediate support of loved ones.
An empty, alien environment where there is just you and God. Essential aloneness that is not lonely. For there is no phone to wish to ring, no door waiting to be knocked on. No expectations of a friendly voice. No-one to long for; nothing to be disappointed over.
There is no sense of time passing and nothing to hurry for. You can take as long as you like and there is no need to stay longer. At any time you can take your fingers out of the sand, push the tray away and return to everyday life.
Or you can linger awhile; pick up some sand and let it trickle slowly through your fingers. Let your mind wander over the dusty, sandy paths where Jesus walked amongst the dry rocky hillsides and stunted bushes. Ponder what life is really all about.
Ponder your place in the vastness of creation; your purpose for God who made all of everything, who knows every detail of everything and loves every person he has made.
Recall that Jesus has done this same thing before you; realising what it is to be human in the face of God the Father.
Contemplate the gifts, powers, abilities you have been given; the resources that are under your control. How might they be used to God’s glory and how might we be tempted to use them in less worthy ways.
We might not be tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy our own hunger because we haven’t been given that particular ability but we can turn pound coins into bread simply by walking into a supermarket.
How often do we use the money at our disposal to satisfy our own desires without stopping to consider that God might have given us that money in order that we have the ability to provide for someone else’s needs?
Perhaps we are not tempted to throw ourselves from high buildings because we lack the certain knowledge that God can send an army of angels to our rescue. Yet we succumb to the temptation to draw attention to ourselves in other ways.
We almost certainly don’t deliberately get involved in devil worship nor look for the whole world to fall at our feet, yet how often do we let other priorities come between ourselves and God?
Think of the people or events for which we will drop other things; who and what we give our time and energy to. Family and close friends naturally come near the top of the list; so do our favourite hobbies and pastimes.
That’s fine, but we’d do well to consider whereabouts God and our needy neighbour feature on the list.
And while we’re about it, let’s consider the way we go about balancing our priorities. If we debate whether to spend an hour with God or drinking coffee or beer with a friend then we are putting God and the friend on an equal footing and trying to decide between them.
But God is the Almighty Creator whom we have dedicated our lives to so such a dilemma doesn’t make much sense.
Let’s remember that God is always with us waiting to be acknowledged. He will be with us during that hour whether we notice Him or not.
Imagine laying the idea before God; let’s spend this hour drinking coffee/beer with so-and-so, unless there’s something else you’d rather do?
Possibly something else will suddenly seem very pressing but otherwise go and enjoy that hour with God’s blessing and a free conscience.
Consider how much of our time we don’t enjoy as fully as we could because we haven’t consciously shared our everyday experiences with God.
What stops us sharing with God? Is it forgetfulness? Distraction caused by being too busy? Is it fear that He might just give us an answer we don’t want to hear?
If we begin to find some answers during Lent we can emerge from our imaginary sand tray desert with a better knowledge of ourselves and a better understanding of our relationship with God.
Personally, I’m convinced that’s what Jesus’ time in the desert was about; coming to terms with who he was as a human being and who He is as the Son of God.
As followers of Jesus, it behoves us to do the same; to comprehend who we are as mortal beings made of the same carbon and water etc as the inanimate earth and yet spiritual beings made in the image of God.
This understanding equips us to live on this earth as children of heaven; to do God’s work in building the kingdom.
On this day let’s ask:-
Do we stand gazing into heaven
oblivious of the needs around us?
Do we rush off trying to solve the world’s problems
in our own strength?
Do we catch a glimpse of heaven as our goal
then await God’s power as instructed
and quietly do His will?
Strange, unexpected things
May be found in the desert
An empty space to meet with God
Free from normal distractions
But it doesn’t stay empty
For God will fill it
Look around. wander about
A blade of grass
A perfect white stone
Find the dry cracked mud
By the seasonal stream
A shoot pushing through
That will flower with joy
Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Take some time to picture the scene; put yourself in the crowd at the water’s edge and observe from there; note the atmosphere, the mood of the people. Watch the expression on Jesus’ face as he hears the Father’s voice.
Follow in his footsteps as he heads off into the wilderness; the vast empty landscape. Look at the sky, the horizon. Feel the essential aloneness.
Lord, I see you sitting
Sitting on a rock in the desert
Sitting alone in the wilderness
Sometimes, when I pray, I see you there
Sometimes I sit on your rock
Sometimes I squat beside you
But always I wonder, what do you see?
What do you find in the desert?
I sit on your rock and gaze around
I see a twilit sky
All else is vague, I know not what is there.
Some years ago I attended an Ignation style meditation where we were encouraged to visualise a desert wilderness of the sort where Jesus retreated to following his baptism by John in the Jordan.
This imaginary scene became very familiar to me over the weeks of Lent as somewhere I could go to in my personal prayer time.
I don’t see fields of ripened corn
in my daily life
Reapers belong to yesteryear
And combine harvesters do not cross
Yet I still see signs of harvest
Boxes of apples on garden walls
Neighbours sharing their bounty
with passers by
Lord of the harvest, accept whatever we have to offer as tokens of gratitude for all the good gifts you heap on us.
Abba, God, my Father, I gaze around as I walk and see the trees you made are wearing their late Summer green. A different green from Spring. You made so many greens.
This green reminds me that times are changing. Fruit is ripening. Nature preparing for the long night as Summer draws to a close.
Yet all around me people are preparing for a new start. A new term, a new class, school or college.
Beginnings and endings intrinsically interwoven; the very fabric of life.
Lord, the Beginning of all beginnings and End of all ends. You encompass all of life. Grant us now that awareness of your presence that inspires confidence to meet whatever the changing season brings our way.