Vast areas of our world are desert. More or less empty spaces where little grows and even less goes on. Interestingly, the Christian story has a lot to do with deserts. The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. Moses encountered God in the desert, first in the burning bush and then on the mountain. So did Elijah. And, most important of all, Jesus spent forty days in the desert at the start of his ministry.
The desert is an empty space where there are few distractions and where we come face to face with ourselves and the quest for love, truth, goodness and God. A place where we learn to breathe again away from all the pressures that make life such a rush and such a noise. In the early centuries of the church, once the Christian faith became popular, there were many who left to live in the desert because they felt the church had betrayed its calling and they wished to renew their spiritual journey away from distraction. These ‘desert fathers’ were the ancestors of the Christian monastic life.
Most of us cannot go out into the wilderness to be alone with God. But in the church’s year there are certain seasons where we are encouraged to imitate Jesus in his desert experience. Advent, the time before Christmas, is traditionally one of these. So is Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. Times when we are encouraged to put aside some of the distractions of life and concentrate on what really matters. Times when we begin to face the void within us, the void where God speaks.
This year Lent begins on 26th February, Ash Wednesday. Traditionally there are three pillars of Lent. Three essential ingredients of Lent. These are prayer, fasting and works of mercy. We are invited to deepen our life of prayer and meditation. To get back to the disciplines of regular prayer, worship and bible reading. We are also invited to fast. Not primarily in order to improve our physical appearance or health but in order to concentrate more on the things of the soul than the body. But fasting need not always be about food or drink. Nowadays we are often addicted to our phones or emails or social media or the news. A good Lent discipline would be to restrict our online habits! Works of mercy. Are we giving enough to those who have less than us or to other important causes? Are we living charitably with others? Lent is a good time to rediscover the importance of acts of charity in the Christian life.
With every good wish from Mark Crowther-Alwyn