Canadian Mennonite
Volume 9, No. 04
February 21, 2005


Finding God in the wilderness

We have entered Lent. This is a time to reflect on our need for Christ, repent of our sins and receive the forgiveness that has been prepared for us. It’s a time to put aside the things that distract and feel those burrs in the saddle that our consciences and the Holy Spirit leave for us. It’s a time of soul-searching and of being uncomfortable. It’s not as popular as Christmas.

Lent has not been a traditional part of Anabaptist worship. While it was part of early church worship, it was discarded by Anabaptists along with many other church traditions. I asked a church historian at a Mennonite seminary about Lent and the Anabaptists. “I keep thinking that our forebears threw out things that were indeed abused, but that could be sources of grace and renewal for us today—not least I feel this about our Eucharistic practices. I’m especially keen to restore communion to a central place in our piety, although I have found Lent to be beneficial as well,” Alan Kreider told me.

Lent is being used again to call for renewal among Anabaptists. The worship resources distributed by Mennonite Church Canada this year speak of Lent as a desert. At my congregation, we have a series of flat rocks leading up the steps to the platform and a jar full of dry, grey-brown sand. It was poured between vases this past Sunday. As I saw the dust rising in the air from the pouring, I could almost smell the parched and burnt lands it represented.

The idea of desert comes from Jesus’ own time of 40 days of solitude. We don’t actually know if Jesus was in the desert or not. The Greek word used just means wilderness or uninhabited place. We do know Jesus goes into this place after his baptism by John in the Jordan River in Judea. Perhaps Jesus went into some of the rocky canyons and mountains that line the west side of the Dead Sea south of where the Jordan enters it. John the Baptist also lived and preached “in the wilderness” (the same word used for where Jesus went), and John had enough water to immerse people for baptism! Going with Jesus doesn’t mean having to find a dry place.

What defined where Jesus went was that he was away from inhabited lands. He removed himself from towns, human culture and the activities of ordinary social life.

Entering the wilderness is something all of us do at times, willingly or unwillingly. Sometimes our most lonely times are when we are physically surrounded by people but have no one to be with. Sometimes it is when the person we were with is no longer a part of our lives or when the person we wish we could be with is not. Sometimes it is when our familiar routines are broken up by outside events or by our own actions or inactions.

However we enter it, what can make the wilderness beneficial for us is that it cuts through the distractions of life. In the wilderness, it’s easier to see what really matters. David Rensberger writes, “The desert, the erémos, lacks everything except the opportunity to know God.”

It’s during the times when we find ourselves needing much that we can finally discover what we truly require. May this preparation time before Easter be that for you.
Timothy Dyck

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