First Sunday of Lent
First Sunday of Lent
March 10, 2019
There are few among us that have not been to the desert at some time in our lives; if we live long enough we’ll get there, for sure. I’m not talking about some vast expanse of sand and sage brush. I’m talking about that place we find ourselves there when the losses outnumber the wins, when the rejections out shout the affirmations. That vast expanse of emptiness when the one we love doesn’t love us, or where sickness or old age takes us. It’s where grief or loss or depression or poverty can take us.
In some mythologies, the planet Saturn was thought to be the planet that causes that kind of sadness and emptiness. So if you were a poet or religious thinker or philosopher or an artist with that mythology, you would sometimes choose to “sit under Saturn,” that is, you chose to enter into that quiet place of the soul that ordinarily you’d want to avoid. There, in that dark place, it was believed, you could encounter a dimension of life that could not be encountered elsewhere. Part of the idea was that it would be there, where you would cease the normal activities of life, that you could patiently learn some lessons that only a certain emptiness could teach you. It was only there, in this so-called desert, where you were detached from everything else, that some necessary inner work could be done. In mythology, to sit under Saturn was not a bad thing, but for a path and a quest for something greater.
What that mythology tried to teach is exactly what our faith story affirms. Sometimes we don’t choose to go the desert; life just takes us there. But sometimes we do get to chose it. Moses did. At the urging of God he led his people into the desert and remained there forty years, relying solely on the promise of God that they would someday come to the Promised Land. Only when they had been formed and shaped by the hand of God, surviving the trials and challenges that the desert provided, would they be ready for the land flowing with milk and honey.
Jesus likewise entered the desert, led there by the Holy Spirit to face head-on the temptations that the devil placed before him. It was only after prayer and fasting in the desert he was able to fully enter and fulfill the mission to which his Father was calling him.
Lent offers us the opportunity to enter the desert, too. We can choose to continue to live these forty days pretty much the same as we did the last forty days, if we want, but we’ll exit these forty days pretty much the same way we came in. Or, we can choose to deliberately find or create that place every day where there is less to distract us, less to entertain us or pleasure us, where we surrender our control and let go of those things we hold to for security.
Lent offers us the opportunity to sit under Saturn and emerge better men, stronger women and holier people. It’s our choice, of course, but our faith tradition, following the example of Moses and Jesus and countless other mystics and holy men and women that have gone there tell us that if we don’t go there, there will be nothing from which to emerge and nothing to become. But if we do go there, trusting that it is God who leads us there, we can be assured of this: we will emerge from that desert, closer to God and the joy and life and love and mercy God so much wants us to know. It’s our choice.