Sundays Into Silence > Cycle B

1st Sunday of Lent(B)

The Desert, God's Meeting Place
Mk 1:12-15

Reflections by Fr. Gerry Pierse, C.Ss.R.

    Today, as we begin the season of Lent, we are invited to go into the desert. The desert can be geographical - a place apart - or it can be psychological - a time of purification. One person described it: "God is a million light years away. He has simply disappeared." Another said "God is in the desert. Don't be afraid to enter there. He cannot be found anywhere else… he loves you and waits in the desert to embrace you and lead you home." It seems that most people who make a breakthrough to greatness of one kind or another start with some sort of desert experience.

In today's Gospel St. Mark tells us "and straightway (after the Baptism) the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was there 40 days tempted by the Devil, and he lived among wild beasts and the angels ministered to Him." He went to the desert before beginning his public life. This was not the only time Jesus sought the desert. From time to time we see him withdraw to find relief from crowds and to refresh His spirit in solitude.

The desert experience relates to our own journey of meditation. Like the Israelites in the desert the one who meditates moves forward with a purpose, with a sense of discovery, a sense of awakening, with one's eyes on the horizon. The cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night lead us on in our twice daily times of meditation. God put Israel to the test in the desert. He promised that he would lead them to a land of freedom and plenty. But the Israelites wavered back and forth between trusting God's promise and doubting it. In starting off on the journey of meditation we too often have questions and doubts. What is meditation doing for me? Where is it leading me? Is it really worth all the effort? Some of us, like the Israelites, are tempted to go back to the land of Egypt and live in slavery rather then strike out for the Promised Land.

Often in our meditation journey God may seem absent. Our periods of meditation feel empty and raise doubts about the faithful presence of God. But temptations are the basic form of "testing" in the desert experience and an inevitable part of the human condition. Temptations faced in the desert experience reveal what a person is made of and test the depths of our commitment to meditation. In the desert we recognize within ourselves the presence of evil and the presence of good, both our will to serve God and our reluctance to do so. These forces are locked in perpetual battle. The experience of temptation makes us realize that we cannot go forward without God's help, that we must acknowledge our complete dependence upon Him.

As Jesus was tempted in the desert so we will also be tempted. In the desert of emptiness and dryness and feeling that God is absent, we can be tempted to skip our meditation periods. We can rationalize that we will make it up later. Behind our rationalization lies a feeling of resentment. We are hurt. God seems to have let us down. We say to ourselves, "If I am generous enough to give God two half hours of my time in meditation each day, He could at least give me a little encouragement." This is the self analysis and self-questioning of our meditation that John Main pleads with us to avoid. This is the self concern we are meant to leave behind in meditation. There is nothing we can do to force God to reveal himself to us. Only the faithful repetition and the acceptance of the poverty of the Mantra will save us. The Israelites had to spend 40 years in the desert learning the lesson that there was very little they could do to save themselves; the situation was fundamentally beyond their control and they had to place all their trust in a God who would provide for them and lead them on one day at a time. In our own desert experience and in the poverty and emptiness of meditation we too have to learn to accept our state of helplessness so that God can fill us with himself.

Taken from Sundays into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian Publications

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Sundays into Silence

A Pathway to Life

by Gerry Pierse, cssr
380 pp., PhP 299, U$ 19.95

“The best word I can find to describe this book is integration. In these reflections on the gospel readings for year A, B, and C of the liturgical cycle, Fr. Pierse integrates the richness of the word of God with experiences and stories from life in the community. He shows how through silence, the word can bear fruit in service and sacrament.” (R. J. Cardinal Vidal)

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