#Sundaychurch always produces a ton of fodder for blogging topics. Since I don’t preach on a regular basis I gorge on Word and Sacrament, and liturgy and music, symbols and light and…I just might burst at the seams with the richness of it all. But I have to get it down as soon as possible because the inspiration gets lost in meal-planning, reading, the battle over baths and pajamas and then I’m too tired to even catch up on TV much less coherent enough to muster up the fairy dust in what I saw and felt just nine hours before.
Something about this text always gets me. Maybe it’s the setting. The wilderness – a thin kind of place where all sorts of mythical and mythological creatures spar with each other for your soul. It seems like generally people will think of a dry, colorless desert as the first images come to mind when someone says the word, “wilderness.” But those who’ve experienced the deserts of the Black Mountains in South Dakota, Yellowstone of Wyoming, or the Grand Canyon in Arizona know that colorless is the least accurate description.
Andy shared a quote in his sermon: My dad’s good friend, Belden Lane, a professor at St. Louis University writes about what he calls “the solace of fierce landscapes.”
He says, “There is an impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.”
Mountain silence. Desert indifference. I can’t stop mulling over these words. A weird and unsettling truth to it. It reminds me that my tendency to think that Mother Nature should be a placid, gentle force that gathers us up like a sweet mother embraces a baby at her breast…is wrong.
I remember one of the weeks out in the San Juan mountains as a backpacking guide for high school students for Wilderness Ranch. I was guiding with two other females – it was a group of all girls. We had been on point the entire time, and the week couldn’t have gone more smoothly. It was the first time I felt really confident and natural in my ability to lead these trips. All the technical aspects were like breathing, and we were able to have fun. On a whim we decided to sleep out in the open under the stars – a romantic close to our week. Sandwiched between Callie and Julie – the other two guides – I woke up all of a sudden. It was still dark but there was an eerie light above us. I turned to Julie and saw that she was awake. All she said was, Look at those clouds. And I looked more closely and they looked like mammatus clouds. When I was in college I took a weather class and I had an obsession with clouds. These particular clouds look like clusters of bubbles – like the sky is foaming over and about to burst. We started to hear thunder and see lightening. Callie was quietly counting in between the flashes and rumbles, One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississippi. Five Mississippi…
She started over quicker and quicker meaning some kind of storm was headed our way. I started to feel the electricity. We decided to wake up the girls (who were all amazingly sound asleep) and groggily headed over to a sparsely clustered group of aspens. We instructed everyone to assume the backcountry safety position: Squatting (or sitting) and balling up so you are as low as possible and wrapping your arms around your legs, keeping your feet together.
We were saying a lot of prayers out loud together. Something about the combination of nighttime exhaustion, strange lights, thunder and lightening seem to magnify emotions, and maybe even cloud judgment – who knows, if we were doing what was right or even necessary. We ended up fine, and even got our bags back out and all fell asleep right there under the trees. But, what struck me at the moment, and had many times before, was that Mother Nature is not one to fuck around. I mean, seriously, don’t mess with Mother Nature. In other words, we are creatures, we are creation, and God is the Creator. There are no other spaces in reality that remind me of this so forcefully than being in the wilderness.
So Jesus goes out into the wilderness. And it’s always couched in the language of temptation and sin, and testing. Ok those words are actually in Scripture. And, yeah, I totally see that in it, but what I heard finally this past Sunday that it’s not so much about testing us. Testing our strength. Wisdom. Intelligence. Power. Even our faithfulness and loyalty. It’s more about trusting. Do we trust God’s words to us that we are truly God’s beloved? Do we trust that we have all we need in God’s continuous bending towards us so much so that we will happily feast on rocks and stones, mudpies and dirt cookies? Do we trust in God’s steadfastness towards us whether we’ve got those angels catching us or tending to us in our bone-tired-want-to-roll-over-and-die exhaustion? Do we trust God’s love for us whether we are able to see everything from that gorgeous mountain summit or crouched down under some wispy aspens for “protection” down in the valley-of-the-shadow-of-death under a storm about to unleash all of Nature’s worst? Do we cling and lash ourselves (in Brennen Manning’s Ragamuffin fashion) to God’s provision, power, and promise?
What our temptations ultimately boil down to isn’t something or someone trying to deter us from upholding some kind of superficial morality or a character-building activity.
We aren’t supposed to test God’s faithfulness, not because it’s offensive or presumptuous but because we shouldn’t need to test God. But, we do it and we test ourselves too. Jesus went out there not to test his own faithfulness or strength or divinity but to remember his humanity and creatureliness, and that he too needs God’s love. God passed the test. When Jesus “passed” that test – that he too is creature – he went on to do miraculous things. And he had firm footing in God, the one who calls him Beloved, the one who will never fail us.