Here are four passages from the wilderness tradition of the Old Testament, the forty years the Israelites spent in the desert. Each of them suggests a practice or an approach we might use in spending our forty day period of Lent. They each provoked some good discussion at a day of recollection I gave today, so I decided to share them with you.
MOSES THE SEER
Role of Moses as the PROPHET, the "seer," is to interpret for the people what God is doing. He asks: "Do you see what God has just done for you?"
Moses said to the people, Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna… in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Dt 8:2-3).
There is a lesson here for dealing with troubled times: In our own troubled times our temptation is to DO MORE AND MORE: work harder, etc., but never bother to pause and try to see a MEANING or a lesson in our troubles.
Each one of us is called to be a “seer.” In God’s country you need to pause sometimes and look for the deeper lesson the Lord may be intending The wilderness times of life are times for seeing, not for just doing. Lent is surely like that. We always ask WHAT ARE YOU DOING for Lent?
instead of WHAT ARE YOU SEEING FOR LENT?
What are some Lenten activities that might help you with “seeing” instead of “doing?” Periods of quiet reflection for example.
The MANNA: TRUSTING THAT GOD WILL BE ENOUGH
In the wilderness God provided for his people guidance through the trackless waste, protection from the hostile desert tribes, water, and of course most familiar of all, MANNA to eat.
In the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. … The Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
In the wilderness I have to put your trust in God and trust that God’s manna will be enough for me; but we control freaks want a wilderness where you feed yourself, where you bring your own manna! What do I feed myself with in the desert? Addiction to the Internet or reality television? Accumulating wealth? Controlling other people?
How do you handle the temptation to bring our own manna with us into the desert?
Lent is a perfect time to look carefully at the ways we tend to feed ourselves and provide for our own sustenance, for our own psychological security -- it seems to me that this provides us with some great possibilities for “fasting” from things that have become too much like manna for us.
THE FAILED INVASION ATTEMPT: BE PATIENT! (Num. 14:40-45)
The Israelites began to try in various ways to take back control from God and live according to their own agenda instead of God's. One example of this disastrous attitude was their abortive attempt to invade Canaan before the Lord's appointed time (Num. 14:40-45). Over the protests and warnings of Moses, a large force of Israelites, leaving the Ark of the Covenant back at camp, went up into the hill country to attack the Amalekites and the Canaanites - even though God was not with them.
The Israelites rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, ‘Here we are. We will go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.’ But Moses said, ‘Why do you continue to transgress the command of the Lord? That will not succeed. Do not go up, for the Lord is not with you; do not let yourselves be struck down before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will confront you there, and you shall fall by the sword; because you have turned back from following the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.’ But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, even though the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, had not left the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them, pursuing them as far as Hormah. (Num. 14:40-45)
The Israelites were impatient to get out of the wilderness, and were seeking a shortcut. And they were right: this shortcut up into Canaan would have considerably lessened the time they would have to spend on their wilderness wanderings, but it was doomed to failure because they were rushing God's timetable. God, it seems, still had a lot to teach them in the wilderness. But, off they went without the Lord's help and on their own timetable, not God's. Predictably, of course, the impatient Israelites were soundly thrashed. Troubled times can make us want to rush God's schedule, to forget that our own agenda may not be God’s, that our own timetable may not be the one that God is following.
A possible Lenten practice that comes to mind is to make time for quiet times of reflection during which we ask the Lord for the gifts of insight and patience concerning the Divine Will in our lives.
A fourth and final lesson from the wilderness years comes from a different tradition that the usual one.
The Wilderness Time as a Honeymoon (Hosea 2:14-15)
In the time of the prophets, they gave a new interpretation of the image of the wilderness: the forty years that Israel had spent in the desert were seen as a sort of honeymoon, a time when getting to know her maker and deliverer, a place where it was just God and Israel, without the distractions of the world, and where Yahweh, as we saw, supplied all her needs for food, water and protection.
Perhaps the most famous proponent of this second image of the wilderness was Hosea. a famous 8th century B.C. prophet who lived in Israel during a time of anxiety and fear among the nations, yet, a time of great material prosperity. He employed this second image of the wilderness when calling the Jewish people to turn from their sinful ways and back to their covenant commitment; he wrote: (Ho. 2:14-15)
Why not use this passage as a basis for some Lenten meditations, seeing Lent as a special time for drawing closer to the God who keeps pursuing us so relentlessly?