I told the story in last week's sermon about our family traveling to Colorado for the first time when I was 13 years old. I shared the story of traveling in that big Pontiac to Colorado Springs and up Pikes Peak and how it thrilled me so much to see the mountains for the first time, an experience that has stayed with me for life and has never let me go. That same trip involved travel from Colorado down through the Four Corners Area and to Phoenix, Arizona where we visited relatives who had moved out there to work in the orange grove industry back in the 50s.
I remember driving over those desolate roads from northwestern New Mexico to Phoenix. How dry and isolated the landscape was. We went through long stretches of landscape where no one lived. My mother, ever the worrier, voiced her concerns many times that she hoped the car did not break down in any of those barren spots. I remember driving through the desert regions of Arizona and seeing the giant cactus, standing tall with their arms held high toward the sky. We stopped to take pictures with them, avoiding lizards and other desert creatures that would scurry out of our way.
I must admit that as a child and young person, I also worried about the things my mother worried about. Being stranded in the desert was always big on my worry list, especially in those days before cell phones and cars that are much more reliable than they once were. As we would cruise over the miles in our large Pontiac, I would secretly wish that we would go faster so we would be out of the desert sooner and out of danger of being lost in the vast wasteland that surrounded us.
We did make it through the desert with no problem, thanks to my mom praying constantly while we were traveling. She would pray under her breath, sounding a bit like she was whispering to herself but we knew what she was doing. She does it to this day, especially when she asks someone else to say grace and we do not do it to her satisfaction so she adds additional prayers under her breath to compensate for our lack of proper prayer length and sincerity.
Being lost in the desert has always been a concern. When one looks at movies that happen in desert areas, the characters are always looking for a source of water and a way out of the desert so they can find relief. Many times they are so hot and tired and thirsty, they can barely pull themselves along the sand and begin to hallucinate seeing an oasis in the desert that does not exist. They are so close to unconsciousness that they must find relief or they will die.
Jesus' forty days in the desert in this week's Gospel lesson leaves him in such a state. He sees things, things that speak to him and challenge him, things that represent the evil in the world, the evil that is inherent in human beings. Jesus hears a voice speak to him, from within his head, presenting him with challenges to give in to human desires while in his state of weakness from lack of food and water. He considers finding food anywhere he can find it, even in rocks that resemble loaves of bread but knows that humans cannot change rocks into bread, even he cannot do that as he is a human too. He thinks about taking a risk and letting God save him from the foolish choice he could make by putting himself in danger but again decides that God is not in the business of saving humans from making bad choices, too many humans had proven that to him over his years. He thinks about the powerful armies of the world and the conquering heroes that are on display in the Roman Empire and what it would be like to be one of them but again decides that he was not chosen for such a place in life and puts that out of his head. He finally comes to his senses and finds a source of food and water and it never tasted so good to him as when he has done without it for so long.
We spend 40 days in the desert of our own making each Lent. Some of us give up something we enjoy such as cake or meat. We find other things to eat that satisfy us when we are hungry. Some of us add something on to our lives such as a spiritual practice such as meditating more or reading the Bible more or doing a kind deed for others daily. Some of us just reflect upon our lives and what faith means to us as we live our lives around others. Whatever we may do in our own Desert Days, when we enter into them willingly we find out who we are through the experiences of these days.
Lent may be a new experience to some people. Maybe they have never been part of a Christian community that observed Lent. Maybe they are new to Christian ideas or practices. Maybe it is a bit risky for them to try to participate in it. Trying something new is risky, such as driving through the desert when you have never gone there before, but when you try it and find it meaningful or rewarding it may speak to your spirit in ways you have never encountered before. The desert is a place of danger, for sure, but it is also a place of beauty and inspiration. Some have even encountered the holy in such a place. May you find the holy in your life as you continue to think about what life means to you.