Wilderness CompanionsPosted: February 14, 2016
SLIDE 3: WILDERNESS OF JUDEA
Wednesday was the beginning of Lent a time for ashes, for self-reflection, re-direction, turning and walking with God. This first Sunday of Lent our appointed lesson is the time Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism. The silence in the wilderness of Judea is profound. On Beth’s and my first trip to Israel the guide stopped the bus on the Jericho to Jerusalem road, and we walked about two-hundred yards north of the highway, until we had lost sight of the road. We were suddenly in the middle of nowhere. The harsh landscape offered little or no protection from the elements, and everything was silent. We sat and listened overwhelmed by the stillness and the environment, indeed, much as Jesus may have experienced the wilderness.
SLIDE 4: MONKEY MIND
Since we are utilizing Eric Elnes’ book the Gifts of the Dark Wood in our Lenten study I would like to borrow two important insights from Eric’s book that address Jesus’ time in the wilderness. First, how many people here, when we try to meditate or pray experience what spiritual directors often refer to as “the monkey mind.” As soon as we try to be still our minds begin to behave like drunken monkeys. They jump from one topic to the next seemingly uncontrollably. I find it embarrassing that I can’t do something as simple as clearing my thoughts. Anyone who thinks they are in control just try making your mind go blank for 30 seconds. We no more begin to relax than we remember we have an appointment tomorrow, and by the way we forgot to make out a grocery list. And what was it we needed at the store? And on and on and on — the monkey mind. Maybe if I spend a week in the silence of the Judean Wilderness I might be able to clear my thoughts, but I’m not counting on it.
SLIDE 5: GIFTS OF THE DARK WOOD
Now what Eric shares with us in the Gifts of the Dark Wood goes beyond simple monkey mind. Eric focuses on the very special facet of spiritual direction that seeks the counsel of the Holy Spirit in decision making. Like many of us Eric likes to eat and socialize, and so his description of the spiritual practice of decision making sounds a bit like a dinner party.
SLIDE 6: WALKING DINNER CONVERSATIONS
“. . . All of us are a bit like walking dinner conversations. Around our internal table, a number of voices sit, rarely ceasing to offer their opinions about decisions confronting us. How many distinct voices can you find? I don’t know about you, but I hear plenty of opinions expressed inside my head when simply choosing a restaurant to which to take an out of town guest, let alone the cacophony that erupts when making weightier decisions, like choosing a vocational direction or selecting between candidates for a job. . .
I don’t know how often the Holy Spirit is inclined to weigh in on my restaurant choices, but I do know that when it comes making decisions that truly affect my life’s path — or the path of others — the Holy Spirit always has an opinion. But do I listen!
SLIDE 7: BUT DO I LISTEN!
Often, I’ve placed too many other conversation partners around my internal table, a lot closer to my ear. They argue. They shout over one another. . . . But the Holy Spirit, like Jesus himself, tends to prefer sitting quietly down at the far end of the table – perfectly content to let the conversation roll on without trying to barge in.
SLIDE 8: STILL SMALL VOICE
It’s not that the Holy Spirit isn’t interested in helping me. The Spirit simply isn’t one to strong-arm a conversation or offer advice I don’t truly want to hear. In fact, the Spirit seems perfectly content to remain silent until or unless I care enough to rearrange the seating order. Even then, the Spirit usually speaks in whispers (a “still small voice”). . . .
If we want God’s help, we have to listen very carefully, because many of our other internal voices, our ego, our hypercritical parent, our creative but often naughty and rebellious child, will drown out the quiet voice of the Spirit. The story of Jesus in the wilderness is also our story. He spent time alone, learning to sort out his internal voices, re-arranging the seating at his internal table, until he could finally hear the voice of the Spirit.
SLIDE 9: SATAN – THE ANGEL OF TEMPTATION
Now as we think about the story of Jesus in the wilderness some of us will remember that one of the voices that haunted him in the desert was Satan, the angel of temptation, who challenged Jesus to turn stones into bread, jump from the pinnacle of the temple to prove that God would save him from harm, and to possess ultimate political and military power by worshipping the Dark Side of power. Satan can be presented as power outside of Jesus with whom he had to struggle. But truth to be told the temptations Jesus wrestled were really internal voices, his own dark side, and Eric Elnes gives us a unique take on the peculiar nature of Jesus’ temptations.
SLIDE 10: THE TEMPTATION TO DO THE WRONG GOOD
. . . . If you were the Adversary and wanted to tempt someone like Jesus, you’d have to convince Jesus you were on his side while rolling out the biggest temptations you could possibly muster. All your temptations would have to be about doing good. Let’s consider the specific goods Jesus was tempted by: turning stone into bread, ruling the world, performing impressive miracles.
These temptations seem pretty harmless, don’t they? If Jesus would base his ministry on turning stones into bread, he could not only feed himself, but also feed all the hungry of the world. (Now we’re talking!) If Jesus held all political power, imagine the temptation of being able to change unjust laws, or redirecting public and private resources to their best use, or creating world peace! Or again if Jesus could impress people with some extravagant public miracles, like jumping off the roof of the Temple, belief would no longer be necessary. Miracles could provide certainty. . .
SLIDE 11: THE SPIRIT BECKONS US TO BE HUMAN
The problem is . . . there is a world of difference between doing good, and doing the specific good that we are called to do. The Spirit beckons us not to be good, but to be human — humble of the humus (of the earth) — which ultimately means finding your elemental waters, which are connected to God, and living into your fullest energies. You can (and will) do a lot of good by walking the path that brings you most fully alive in this world, but in order to stay on this path, you must learn to say no to doing a great many “good” things.
SLIDE 12: MOVING OFF OF THE PATH OF ORDINARY WISDOM
Jesus’ purpose and true power was not realized through feeding the hungry or practicing politics or performing miracles, even as each of these surely was part of his path. Devoting his entire life’s work to them was too small a calling for Jesus. . . . Part of Jesus’ calling was to live more fulling into his human identity than anyone else had ever done before. . . . Jesus also reveals that the more we draw from the Source of our highest energies, thereby living into our true identity, the more we resemble actual divinity. That’s because in order to follow our best path in the world, we’ve got to move off the path of ordinary wisdom and start following a path marked by God’s inspirations – those gut hunches and reverberations of peace and joy that emanate from the Spirit.
SLIDE 13: RISK
But following hunches and inspiration to reach for something more human and more divine is difficult. Ordinary wisdom counsels us to be content with just doing good, not reaching for the specific good we are called by the Spirit to do. And the reason is risk.
Last week Judy Cameron got all excited about the back of the bulletin, and a charge from, John Dorhauer, the new General Minister of the United Church of Christ: “I want you to prepare to fail. I want you to give yourself permission to take risks and then be there to receive the risk-takers with grace when they fail, and to learn from those failures and pass on what we learn to others.”
SLIDE 14: BE PREPARED FOR FAILURE
Jesus took great risks and was willing to pay for them. The crucifixion could be considered a symbol of failure, yet God reached into the tomb and opened it, shining the light of resurrection on the kind of reception that risk-taking for the sake of the Commonwealth of God gets you.
SLIDE 15: RISKS TO BECOME MORE HUMAN AND MORE DIVINE
Too often church people are risk averse. Remember the seven last words of the church? “We’ve never done it that way before.” That is the sign of a risk averse institution. We need to allow the example of Jesus in the wilderness daring to reach for the specific good to which God was calling him, to inspire us to take the risks to become more human and more divine. What good is the Spirit calling you to reach for? What risks might lead you to the kind of living that will bring alive your fullest energies? During this season of Lent come walk with us and Eric Elnes into the Dark Wood to fully embrace the Spiritual Gifts God intends for us.