Wednesday, March 1, 2017

First Sunday of Lent ~ Desert Transitions!

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness
J. Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)
First Sunday of Lent ~

In our CSA Constitutions, in the section on Formation and Membership, there is written this theology statement:
Transitions of every sort mark our lives. We try to recognize in each of them a graced moment in our ongoing formation, one in which we can live out the paschal mystery and build the kingdom of God. (#58)

Some transitions are inevitable in our human experience, some are probable, and others are possible but perhaps not likely.  Birth, adolescence, mid-life, senior life, death.   All are transitions that are natural to every human experience, given an average life span. 

Even in our own community, we have had many transitions – I’d like to name just a few from the recent past-
• Can we remember when we initiated de-centralized government, along with establishing the offices of Sponsorship and Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation and Associate Relationships?
• Can we remember when the Motherhouse at 390 E. Division St., was raised so that St. Agnes hospital could expand?
• Can we recall the decisions and emotions involved in the process of raising Nazareth Heights and constructing a site with four hermitages for those seeking rest, renewal, and solitude?
• Can we remember how we felt when we knew that decisions had to be made regarding leaving missions in Honduras and Nicaragua?
• And here we are in our 6th motherhouse since 1858. .  .

Yes, transitions of every sort mark our lives.

We continue to encounter transitions in which we are invited to name our present reality as we evolve into the future,  and even more so today as we dialogue with contemplative hearts in preparing for our upcoming Chapter this summer.

Transitions always begin with endings that place us in an in-between space – or a liminality that is uncomfortable, uncertain, disorienting; there may be a loss of a sense of identity, and oftentimes we can experience a change in our relationship with ourselves and perhaps with God as well. 

In her book, Journey of the Soul, Sister Doris Klein speaks of transitions with the following words:
“When we face those times of uncertainty in our life, the scene is often blurry.  Things we were so sure of suddenly make little sense.  The answers we thought were clear now seem lost in a distant fog, and we wander aimlessly, unable to regain the focus we once believed we had.

Our confusion is unsettling.  Doubt, like vertigo, distorts our balance as we fearfully wander in a vast and empty inner wilderness.  As we wrestle with the darkness, a rush of panic washes into our hearts, our breath becomes shallow and, with each question, the judgments seem to escalate.”

Here in our Gospel, we find Jesus smack dab in the midst of transition – and “knee deep” in liminal space.  This could be considered his novitiate, or sabbatical time, a vision quest, or the Spirit’s idea of boot camp for prophets.
After Jesus heard God call him “My Beloved” at his baptism, we are told that the Spirit drove him into the desert to discover what it would mean to be God’s Beloved. 

It is here in this wilderness that his spiritual, psychological, and personal inner strength is challenged by the tempter who is the master of delusion, denial, and lies, and who is taunting him to choose the “dark side.”  Jesus’ desert drama is a struggle that will prepare him for all that awaits him in his public ministry and mission as the Anointed One. 

He will carry no light saber or magic wand to ward off the stones of critics, opponents, or enemies that find him too much for them. Here in the wilderness, he has fasted for forty days and forty nights. It is here on the margins of the city that he will wrestle with the demons of hunger, power, prestige, possessions, and fame. In his physical emptiness, he is made vulnerable in his call as Beloved.

He is confronted by the tempter to turn stones into bread – a temptation that entices him to believe that if his hunger would be satisfied with earthly pleasures – it will be enough. 

It is here in the school of the desert that he chooses the emptiness of letting go of all that satisfied him in the past – namely,  his relationships of his village, his family, his simple life of carpentry, his privacy, his identity. Jesus, alone in the desolate wilderness where he is without food or water, and is stripped of all his securities, now remembers and embraces the words of love he heard upon rising from the waters of the Jordan. . . You are my Beloved . . . God alone becomes his sustenance.

For Jesus all of the comfortable, familiar, and secure have ended.  He refuses to give in to the tempter of illusion and is nourished again by the voice and words of God - for his journey will be one of feeding the hungry in spirit, mind, and body with the bread of his words.

His second temptation is to doubt God’s abiding love. Jesus is challenged to test whether or not God is really trustworthy.  Jumping from the pinnacle of the temple would gain Jesus instant acclaim as a wonder worker, winning over the multitudes.
But Jesus stands firm.  He refuses to give in to self-destruction and self-hatred and chooses to remain faithful to God, trusting God’s unconditional love.

Finally, the tempter shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and taunts that if he is God’s Beloved, why not be popular, famous, and have a chance to be a rock star?  This is a subtle temptation for domination and power, to become an owner of everything, having control of everyone, in charge of life itself.  The price demanded by the tempter for all the kingdoms of the world was to worship him. Jesus again says that being the Beloved is all that he needs and he chooses faithfulness to God.

So what is the Good News for us? 
“To struggle is to begin to see the world differently.    . . .  If we are willing to persevere through the depths of struggle we can emerge with conversion, faith, courage, surrender, self-acceptance, endurance, and a kind of personal growth that takes us beyond pain to understanding.  Enduring struggle is the price to be paid for becoming everything we are meant to be in the world.” (Joan Chittister)

• As individuals, as a community, a church, as people of this shared planet . . . how do we face struggles with the hungers, illusions, and powers of temptation that confront us every day? 
• What struggles do we face at this juncture of “in-betweenness” and liminality? Can we accept the challenges: to name them, realize their impact, and consequences?  Then, how will we choose to walk with trust, hope, and audacity into the now and not-yet?
• What is the grace we desire at this time, at the beginning of Lent, as we prepare to move through the paschal mystery?
• What gifts within our present transitions are we invited to claim?  Are we able to surrender to this time of conversion, allowing angels to minister to us and to nourish us with God’s Word and the faith of one another, letting go of the needs and desires that may separate us from God?
• Finally, as we enter this desert time of transitions, let us ask for the graces we need to rekindle our love of God and God’s mission; for God is tenderly, lovingly, unceasingly speaking to our spirits: You are my beloved!

So let us pray:
Transitions of every sort mark our lives. We try to recognize in each of them a graced moment in our ongoing formation, one in which we can live out the paschal mystery and build the kingdom of God. (#58)

Jesus Ministered to by Angels ~ J. Tissot

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