Meditation for Lent

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.

Desert Diaries 3

Forget the rolling sand dunes, This desert is harsh, hilly scrub-land. It’s where Jesus went after his baptism by John.
Follow his footsteps and come to a place to be alone; a place to take stock of life; a place to be alone with yourself and get to know who you really are.
There’s nothing like spending time alone with someone in difficult circumstances for really getting to know each other. We may take it for granted that we already know ourselves, but whenever unusual and difficult events come into a conversation people tend to admit that they don’t actually know how they would react in such circumstances. If you were really hungry and knew you had the power to turn stones into bread would you succumb to the temptation to prove a point and fulfill your own need or desire? It’s a matter of using God’s gifts for selfish reasons instead of for love.
On other occasions, Jesus fed huge crowds. He turned water into wine. Although these events did act as signs of his power, they were done out of compassion for people in need.
The reason or motive behind an action can sometimes be as important as the action itself. Yet, at other times, what matters is to just get on and do what needs doing without a lot of introspective speculation on the whys and wherefores. Knowing which response is called for in any given situation is a matter of how well we know ourselves, how well we know God and how much we allow God to know us.
Of course, in the sense that God is all knowing and we are his creation, then he knows all about us anyway. But there is a big difference between this knowledge and the knowledge that we deliberately lay before him and invite him to share with us. When we open our inner selves to God in this way, we get to know him better and, because he knows us better than we know ourselves, we also get to know ourselves better as he shows us things that we hadn’t noticed about ourselves. Armed with this knowledge, we can start to become the person that God really wants us to be.
Lent is a good time to embark on such a journey of self-knowledge and deepening relationship with God. A time to consider the place that our faith occupies in our daily lives.
It often seems as though Lent falls into two parts. At the beginning comes the preparation for ministry and towards the end the preparation for Good Friday. The time in the desert and the time in Gethsemane. Facing life, facing death.
As we metaphorically follow Jesus up from the Jordan into the desert wilderness, there is nothing and no-one to come between us and God. Nowhere to hide. No excuses. Just our own self, open and exposed.
Consider setting aside ten or twenty minutes a day to place yourself alone with God in the desert. Picture the scene. Own the space. Look around. If you’re going to spend some time here, you’ll want somewhere to sit down. Perhaps a scrubby, stunted tree will provide some welcome shade, or the mouth of a cave. Or a flat rock might make a good seat. Wherever you find, this is your space. Your space to simply be before God, as unencumbered and naked before God’s gaze as the stones around your feet.
We often think of giving up something edible for Lent, but how about giving up some time instead  for prayer and meditation and see what it does for your relationship with God and with yourself.

Desert Diaries 1

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.