Sunday, February 24, 2013

Introspection and Resistance in the Wilderness

I love Lent.  I really do.  I love the theological themes of wilderness, temptation, confession, sin, and death.  Sermons during Lent are more profound; they hold my attention and challenge my understanding of Scripture and faith.  Take the two sermons I heard this past week, one from Rev. Linda Eastwood on Ash Wednesday and one from Rev. Julian DeShazier this past Sunday.  Linda explored how we fall short in our discipleship, how we would rather ignore the “little” sins that we commit every day than consider our own complicity in the evils of the world.  Lent, she said, is a time to confront ourselves and to repent through our actions as well as through verbal confession.  In his sermon on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Julian argued that we are sent into the wilderness each Lent to confront our own temptations, those things which prevent us from being good Christians all year round.  Once we have mastery over our temptations, they can no longer obstruct our faithful discipleship.  In going out into the wilderness, the mysterious and frightening wilderness, we discover that we are our own worst enemy.  And that’s ok.  Because our Creator is faithful and just, (S)he will be with us in the wilderness and will strengthen us to overcome temptation.

As much as I love the idea of Lent, I’m not so good at actually confronting the wilderness or myself.  In fact, I avoid independent spiritual reflection like it could kill me.  As theologically rich and intellectually satisfying as the Lenten season is, actually going into the wilderness and confronting yourself is scary as shit.  Here are two pop-culture references that sum up what Lenten self-reflection is actually like:

1)  That scene in “Batman Begins” when Bruce Wayne eats the hallucinogenic flower, has to somehow defend himself against a ninja attack, then opens a box only to be swarmed by bats (his greatest fear).

2)  That scene in “Firefly” (episode 10) in which Niska refers to a quote by Xiang Yu while torturing Mal and Wash.  “Know a man for years.  Live with him, share his bread and water, speak with him on every subject.  Then tie him up and hold him over a volcano’s edge.  On that day, you will finally meet the man.”

This wilderness thing is no joke, it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  That’s why I usually avoid it.  Every year I make promises that I’ll spend more time reading the Bible, maybe actually do a little spiritual reflection, carve out some time in the day for meditation and focused stillness.  I do it a couple of times, but then I find excuses:  I have too much homework, I should catch up on emails, it would be a shame not to go for a walk when it’s 50 degrees outside, it’s about time I cleaned out the refrigerator, etc.  The truth is, I’m afraid to sit with God and with myself, to really reflect on my faith and my life.  It’s not easy to evaluate yourself, to really think about your sins and faults, and to recognize the temptations that keep you from being what God desires and hopes for.  I don’t believe that the adversary Jesus faced in the wilderness was some incarnate evil; it was himself.  Jesus was sent into the desert: he ate that hallucinogenic flower, he held himself over a volcano so that he could confront his own limitations, fears, and temptations.  And it took FORTY DAYS of reflection, fasting, and prayer for Jesus to finally overcome all those things that could have prevented him from becoming the Christ.  But here’s the silver lining:  he did it; we can too. 

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