In many Native American cultures, young adults participate in what is called a Vision Quest. When they are ready, youth go on a personal, spiritual quest alone in the wilderness, to become attuned with the spirit world and to discover their direction in life.
In today’s Gospel reading, “The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, where he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” It may not have been a Vision Quest, but Jesus is sent into the wilderness and emerges from his time there with focus and, well, vision that launches his ministry.
“This is the time of fulfillment,” he announces. “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
This, especially as related by St. Mark, is the Gospel message in a nutshell. The Scriptures are fulfilled. The kingdom of God is here. Repent, turn around and follow me.
This is a wonderful message as we enter Lent. We are all so easily consumed with our day-to-day responsibilities that it sometimes is hard to remember to stay true to our purpose in life. What is that purpose? Well, if you don’t know it, you might need to spend a little time in the wilderness yourself.
In my case, I struggle to stay true to my desire to be of service to the “poor” in my community. I put poor in quotation marks because it isn’t just the economically poor that we are called to serve. The spiritually-poor, the relationship-poor and the love-starved are among those that God asks us to reach out to with love, compassion and welcome.
The Lenten tradition of “giving up” something is meant to intentionally deny ourselves something that we cling to for security in order to turn more completely toward God.
Of course, Jesus didn’t necessarily waltz off into the wilderness on his own initiative. We’re told that the Spirit “drove” him there. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I have been driven into the wilderness at various times in my life — times when what I normally rely on for my identity and security is stripped away. The loss of a job and the loss of a relationship were two of the events that sent me searching for a more lasting source of security and identity, and each led me to seek a deeper sense of God’s presence in my life.
The Lenten tradition of “giving up” something is meant to do just that — to intentionally deny ourselves something that we cling to for security in order to turn more completely toward God. It’s not just about giving up peanut butter or chocolate, but about giving up the bad habits that separate us from God and others.
In the past I’ve tried giving up yelling at my children, or giving up using anger to try and maintain control over my household. And I’ve also tried to give up putting others down as a nasty, negative way to feel good about myself.
Whether we choose or are driven to be there, the wilderness need not be a scary place. It represents an opportunity to grow, to know ourselves and to know God better. It is a chance to regain purpose and fulfillment in our own spiritual journeys.
Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected].