Published: March 2006
Related Topics: Lent
There is a further edge to this darkness, this wilderness, but it is not yet in sight. There is a purpose in this wilderness, but it is not yet clear. It will take forty days (or was that forty years?) to make our way across the wilderness, through the darkness, to the further edge.
What did Jesus do in the wilderness? Who was Jesus in the wilderness? What was the curriculum of that barren place? What might we miss in the wilderness if all we pay attention to is the further edge? What don't we learn in February if all we can think about is summer vacation (the last one, the next one)? That there is a further edge doesn't make this any less the darkness, any less the wilderness. That this is the darkness, is the wilderness, does not make it any less holy, this Lenten mean time.
"And no matter who you think you are, everybody gets the chance to be... nothing." (Isn't that what friends are for? - Bruce Cockburn) In the Lenten fast, we give something up and detach ourselves from one thing or another that helps define our lives. In the Lenten fast we take at least one step towards becoming nothing. In Lent, we deliberately acquire a loss and take a step towards that place, where like the One whom we follow, we have lost everything but our name - "Beloved of God." I don't think we are meant to despise these things - our work, our food, our leisure, the practices in which we house and clothe and feed our lives - but neither can we seriously believe they "? us."
There is a further edge to this darkness, and there is a purpose in this wilderness, but we cannot approach that edge or enter that purpose without being changed, being made new, without the abandonment of what was, without the downward plunge of baptism.
What would have happened if Jesus had not gone into the wilderness? What if he had gone shopping instead, or written a spiritual (but not religious) book about the events at the river? Surely he had some measure of freedom in this; surely he was not so flimsy that something as feathery and near-weightless as the Spirit could drive him, without his consent, into the wasteland. Or did he come up from the water so empty that "You are my child" could utterly fill him, that something as insubstantial as the Spirit could outweigh him? Is this what being born is like? Again?
These are not questions we can entertain as if our faith were a commercial break in the drama of our lives. They are big questions, and they matter. They matter enough that the church offers us the habit of Lent and the curriculum of the wilderness, to invite us to become a nothing so empty that "You are my child" can be our new name.
Or our ancient one. What if, when we said in the garden, "I'm nobody's child" it actually happened? What if God decided that our freedom is the only possible condition for love, that we could choose - even cluelessly - a life without God? Because if we can't choose a life without God, you couldn't meaningfully say that we have chosen a life with God either. What if that day, even if we didn't actually lose the name, "You are my child" we lost the ability to hear that name spoken?
In his essay on "Vocation" in A Ray of Darkness, Rowan Williams, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, tells the story of an accomplished rabbi who fails to hear his name read from the book of life at the gates of paradise, not because the angel doesn't read the name out loud, but because the rabbi has never heard it before. He must go away and struggle to remember, the angel tells him, and occasion when he has heard his true name spoken in love. And if he cannot recall such an occasion, he must enter the deepest silence, and wait to hear his true name on the lips of the Holy One....
Your donation will help us thrust the Niagara Anglican into the future - communicating the Gospel and the good news of our Anglican tradition to generations to come.