Time of TestingPosted: March 9, 2014
Time of Testing
RITUAL OF PASSAGE — REBIRTH
Jesus went to the wilderness after his Baptism. Perhaps a passage from Eyes Remade for Wonder will help to explain why he went:
Rites of passage are a way of symbolically initiating people into a new phase of their life. The ritual of passage is a container to hold them in that in between time, when they are for instance in the adolescent rite of passage no longer children but not yet adults.
Indeed, it has always seemed to me that the miracle of the Exodus was not that the waters parted for the Israelites, but that they all walked into the midst of the sea, drowned, and were reborn free men and women on the other side. You want to be reborn. . . Then you have to let go of the old you. You must be willing to walk into the midst of the sea on dry ground and risk it all. But you say, “What if I don’t come out the other side?” And I say there were probably a lot of Jews who were also afraid to step into the midst of the sea. They chose instead to bank on old but sure slave lives. We never heard from them again. But the ones who entered the water, hungry for rebirth were rewarded. Not with the Promised Land but with the strange honor of being able to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Theirs was the ultimate act of faith and they were rewarded with the ultimate gift: rebirth in the wilderness.
40 DAYS AND NIGHTS BECOMING THE MESSIAH
Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness, and he was rewarded with the ultimate gift – “rebirth in the wilderness.” Thus the time in the wilderness was a time of reflection, fasting and prayer, a time of rebirth as he was becoming the Messiah.
WHERE IS OUR WILDERNESS?
If the story of Jesus in the wilderness is to have any meaning for us, we have to ask, where is our wilderness? Where is the time of testing and prayer, that will bring us through to rebirth in the spirit? Now as I begin I want to acknowledge the subject of spiritual rebirth may make some of us nervous, because it has been used and abused by religious fundamentalists.
ARE YOUR SAVED?
I remember a long time ago I was walking through a public park in Omaha, when a group of what we called in those days “Jesus People” came up to me and enthusiastically asked, “Are you saved?”
I didn’t want to say, “No,” because I wanted to affirm the validity of my own spiritual journey. I also didn’t want them pestering me with their four spiritual laws and their five step method to get to heaven. But I couldn’t bring myself to say, “Yes,” because I knew my spiritual journey was not what they had in mind, when they asked me if I was saved. So after a minute of thought, I felt inspired to say, “In a manner of speaking, yes.” These poor Jesus folks didn’t know what to do with my answer. And so they walked away somehow disappointed and confused.
SAVED FOR WHAT?
Now we might also ask in return, “Saved for what?” God doesn’t want to preserve us in formaldehyde. When God “saves” us, God has a purpose a mission in mind. Spiritual rebirth is not a once and done affair but rather a process of becoming. In my own faith journey I like to think of rebirth as taking the Long Road Home. I sort of expect that like those Israelites of the Exodus long ago, I will spend a life time in the spiritual desert. Even though in my faith journey I may wander in the wilderness, I have found some markers along the way that point toward home.
Now whenever we start talking about spiritual development we have to be careful, because hubris will not be far behind. We always encounter the temptation to make comparisons. So I offer you this observation: If you can live without caffeine, if you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains, if you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time, if you can take criticism and blame without resentment, if you can ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him or her, if you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend, if you can face the world without lies and deceit, if you can relax without alcohol and sleep without the aid of drugs, if you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics. . . .
SAME LEVEL AS YOUR DOG
Then you have almost reached the same level of spiritual development as your dog!
APPROPRIATE REGULATION OF OUR EGOS
So with that caution in mind, what are some of the markers in the wilderness that may point toward home? The first marker is appropriate regulation of our egos. We have to have enough ego to be aware of ourselves in the world, so we do not step off a curb in front of a bus. We need to be aware of other people around us and maintain appropriate boundaries. I don’t know about you but ego inflation for me is an ever present problem. The moment I think I am humble, I am not. In my fantasy world I am much more important than I really am. But as I have gotten older I have become aware of when my fantasies are carrying me away and my ego is inflating. I now know I will never become President of the United States nor would I want the job. As a true introvert, I do not want to become a celebrity, and I no longer envy the success of others. I will settle for my own life and problems thank you very much.
SPIRITUAL PRACTICES BECOME MORE IMPORTANT
Another sign on the road homeward is my spiritual practices have become increasingly important. Physical exercise, prayer time, meditation, all help to provide a container for my ego and give structure to my life.
HERE AND NOW ON THE PARKWAY
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, “I’d rather be here and now.” Here and now is an important mantra that helps to contain my fantasizing, and provides focus. Especially when I am trying to drive on the Parkway in the rain, “here and now,” is a reminder to set other concerns aside and focus on driving my car and staying alive. The more we can live our lives here and now the closer we can draw to God. God’s presence is always here and now.
Jesus took with him into the wilderness his spiritual practices – fasting, prayer and silence. The silence of the Judean wilderness is profound. On one of Beth’s and my trips to the Holy Land our guide had the bus pull over to the side of the highway, and we walked about two hundred yards away from the road. Our guide then asked us to stop and listen. The silence was profound. No radios. No electronic devices. No road noise. Just silence.
LANDSCAPE HAS NOT CHANGED
The landscape had not changed for two-thousand years, and I could imagine Jesus listening to his inner voices: “You hungry? Change stones into bread. Dazzle them! Jump from the pinnacle of the Temple! If you seize the power, you can change the world!”
SUBTLE SEDUCTIVE VOICES
Subtle seductive voices. Not unlike some of the strange whispers that may float through our heads. One of the subtle fantasies that occasionally surfaces in my brain is winning the lottery. I think of all the good things I could do with $400 million dollars. And then God pulls me up short and I realize my greed would only destroy me rather than make me happy. This may explain why so many lottery winners attempt suicide. Money is not the answer to most of our problems.
As Jesus persisted in the silence the murmurs of his shadow subsided until he could hear the soundless voice of the One that comes from the heart, “You are my beloved. That is enough.” When our hearts fall silent long enough to finally hear the One, then we can know that we have, and we are enough. Enough is one of the landmarks on the road homeward.
Another marker on the road toward home is learning to acknowledge the mistakes of our past without beating up on ourselves. Often I will remember some incident from my past and all I can do is shake my head. But then I realize I am better for having been worse. God has been with me even in the mistakes I have made, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without the failures as well as the occasional successes that have been scattered through my life. Often I do not understand my own motives, and I am only occasionally aware of the larger purposes surrounding my actions. Sometimes God makes use of me in spite of myself. We cannot perceive the workings of providence, until we look back upon our experience and we say, “Oh my, surely God was in that event and at the time I did not know.”
IMPORTANCE OF RELATIONSHIPS
A final marker on the road homeward is when we finally realize the importance of our relationships. When we are younger we are likely to strive after educational degrees, money, power, status, outward signs of worldly success. As we mature our priorities often shift to relationships. Our relationship with children, or our spouses or partners, our friendships, even our relationship with ourselves and God. Jesus emphasized relationship. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus called his followers into the church, where they were to share their material resources and seek to touch the needs of others and bring healing physical and spiritual through the love of the community of faith. On that long road homeward, all of our other achievements pale in comparison to the quality of our relationships.
THE WAY OF JESUS IS THE WAY HOME
In the time of his testing in the wilderness Jesus attuned himself to the movement of the spirit, so God could inspire, enlighten, reveal, and heal through him. God saves us for a purpose, to follow the way of Jesus, so we might inspire, enlighten, reveal and heal others in the name of Christ. Following the way of Jesus we find our way home.