“Thus says the LORD:
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
The people I formed for myself,
that they might announce my praise.” – Isaiah 43: 18-19, 21
I have a weird love for the desert, not that I’ve ever really been to one (unless you count parts of Utah and Nevada). If you remember, I’ve written about my love for the desert and how it is not something to fear. My favorite verse in all of Scripture comes from Hosea 2:16 which reads, “So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart” (NAB). If you asked me what my favorite liturgical season is (a nerdy, theological question, I know) I would say Advent and Lent…but mostly Lent. I love the Triduum, I love Good Friday, I love Ash Wednesday, I love the desolation of it all, the sacrifices, the work that goes into not only the liturgies but into our hearts as we truly enter into Christ’s suffering. I love the somber feeling I get when I walk into a church during Lent – the darker colors, the quiet, reflective nature of those assembled within her walls, quieter music. I love the stripped down, bare nature of churches during Lent – the decorations (or, really, lack thereof) set the tone for the hearts of the faithful. I love the desert, I may not always like being called there, but I love the desert because more often than not that is where I feel most connected to the heart of God.
Then, while at Mass this weekend, this reading reached out to me like a cool glass of water on a hot summer’s day. I love the desert but we don’t stay there forever. “In the desert I make a way…” says the Lord. He makes a way out so that we, His people, may announce His praises. I may love the desert and it may be there where I feel most in tune with the heart of God, but I am not called to stay there – and neither are you. We enter the desert because sometimes we need it, we need to be stripped down to our bare essentials, we need to rid ourselves of the clutter in our lives (I’m talking to you here iPods, iPhones, facebook, twitter, etc.). We need the desert because we need to remember what is really important and what is just white noise that only distracts us from God.
Think about it – on a deserted island are you worried about your make-up? Your hair? The clothes you are wearing? Your favorite sports team? The latest celebrity hook-up? No. You are worried about survival, about food, water, and hopefully returning home someday. Shouldn’t that be our spiritual life too? We should be worried about food (the Eucharist), water (the healing Sacraments: Baptism, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick), and hopefully returning Home someday. We don’t want to stay on that deserted island forever, nor should we want to stay in the desert forever.
Imagine if Lent lasted all year – we’d go nuts, and we’d lose our appreciation for it. We need the seasons, we need the deserts andthe mountain tops in order to appreciate all that there is around us. We need summer to be able to appreciate the cool of winter, we need endless snow storms to appreciate the warm summer days. We need the desert to appreciate the forest. As we enter into Lent this year, don’t be dismayed by whatever it is you are giving up or by the prospect of fasting from meat on Fridays or from nearly all food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Try not to let the desolation overwhelm you, but try to appreciate the desert and trust that, as Isaiah wrote, God makes a way out of it. We know Easter is coming, but the desert lays before us. Enter the desert, learn from the desert, seek the heart of God so that when Easter comes we may announce His praises with more fervor than ever before.