A good friend sent us a new book, Organic God, knowing that we view creation as the primary revelation of the Divine. It is a series of Lenten meditations by a priest in Kansas, who understands that we have lost our way spiritually, due in no small part to our loss of connection to the sacred Universe that has given rise to stars, galaxies, rosebushes, elands, the brown recluse and humans. Quite an accomplishment, and one achieved with astonishing “focus” over billions of years.
She contends (and rightly in my view) that nature has much to tell us about the spiritual life. She sees many of us confused that attending our first Sunday morning Eucharist, lovely though it might be, didn’t give us an instant experience of being in deep relationship with God. A desire (or expectation) for “McEucharist”, she calls it.
I’ve seen the same thing in my years as a spiritual director. Our lives are encased in instant gratification, from cell phone contact to food; speed seems to be our goal in every aspect of living. How often we glance out the window at a backyard tree and see no activity; but an hour of sitting beside that tree would reveal an active universe of squirrels, birds, insects, perhaps a even a snake or two. Patience to take in our surroundings is a calling we have almost forgotten. And since we are surrounded by a God who delights in our attention, we may be losing our ability (our desire?) to take in God as our creator, lover and guide.
Jesus was a master at using nature to help us rethink how we approach and engage with God. Seeds and trees and rocks were his teaching palette. When he needed to speak with God, he headed for “a lonely place” (and how difficult it is today to find anywhere that being truly alone is possible!) As we approach Lent, we might take a closer look at Jesus’ wilderness experience. Forty days is a very long time when you have no human companionship, no shelter, no ready food. As anyone who has experienced a traditional vision quest can tell you, three or four days without food and conversation is enough to transform your life; what might forty do?
I’m sure Jesus was tempted more than once to go home, to leave the uncertainty and raw awareness of the desert, to find his friends, a soft bed and a good meal. But love for his suffering human companions sustained him. God waited nearly fourteen billion years for a deeply self-reflective being to emerge in this Universe (talk about patience!). Noah and his flock of mated animals can attest that God was tempted to give up a time or two. But love is a very strong motivator.
Perhaps this year we might rethink how we “do” Lent; what if we were to fast from, well, “fastness”? What if we committed to slow down, even spend an hour a day outdoors? (Was your first reaction to say, “How in the world would I find a whole hour every day to waste outside??”) Consider the possibility that this might not be wasted time, that it might in fact set us free to experience God at a depth we’ve never imagined? Our lives are so very brief in God’s eye; might it not be worth our while to spend more of our fleeting bodily existence in looking for God in the very place that gave rise to us?
Jesus’ wilderness experience wasn’t easy, but it prepared him for a radical ministry of love and compassion—and for a death that became the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the world.
We could do worse.