Monday, March 2, 2009

The Wilderness and a People's Journey

Long ago, the Hebrew people of the Old Testament spent time wandering in the wilderness. Or, ha midbar, in ancient Hebrew. If we look back at this time, and this place, we come to understand that the wilderness they encountered is quite different than the open spaces we know today.

Israel is covered by a lot of desert. When I visited, nearly 10 years ago, I felt how dry the air can be, how fine the dust is in the desert, tasted the saltiness of the place, and sensed the drain of the harsh surroundings on me, even as a traveler. It is a place of great beauty, it is God's country, and yet the climate can be trying.

So what happens when a people are sent to the desert for years? The Israelites encountered wilderness, or the space between Egypt and Israel, during long journey. As a people, they were at a threshold, held in a liminal space between a land of slavery and a land of milk and honey. The climate in the desert can be harsh, foreboding, especially to a people who do not have a home, and do not have permanent shelter. But the Isrealite's time in the desert was not simply a journey.

The journey represents the fulfillment of promise between God and God's people. The time in the wilderness is a time of transformation for them. They are tried by conflicting tribes. They are tried by nature. They are tried and they remain true to God.

What strikes me about this story found in Exodus is that Lent represents the wilderness, a time of transition, and a time of testing. We can go into this more in the days to come. As I think of this time in the foreboding wilderness, the words of Ilia Delio seem ever so appropriate:

"It is in darkness that God's light shines radiantly. Thus we must enter into the darkness to see the light. We must enter into the center of our hearts to find the solitude of God's loving embrace."The Negev Desert, Isreal, by josef.stuefer on Flickr.

1 comment:

Liz said...

I love this story in the Bible. It's also a wonderful reminder of trusting in God.