For Lent I am giving up on a God who makes it easy.
In speaking of the journey of Israel from Egypt Belden Lane writes in The Solace of Fierce Landscapes:
God intentionally opted for the more difficult landscape, as if this were habitually the divine preference. God’s people are deliberately forced into the desert—taking the harder, more onerous and hazardous route—as an exacting exercise in radical faith. They are shoved down the difficult path … Perhaps others can go around the desert on the simpler route toward home, but the way of God’s people is always through it.
Because this is not how I had been taught to interpret the Bible or the spiritual life, I became disillusioned when life took me on hazardous and self-emptying pathways. In my desire for self-affirming and self-fulfilling religious experiences, church had become a place where wilderness travelers were treated with suspicion. “What do you mean you’re having doubts?”
What if the Bible is a book about the quest – the journey of faith – the necessary and life-affirming journey through wilderness places that force us to proceed outside our narcissistic prison into a selfless encounter in love? Isn’t this what we all want if we are honest?
The fierce landscapes of intellectual doubts, difficult relationships, contrary circumstances, unexplainable burdens are the very places where we gain all through losing all. The path to union with God is a self-emptying path, not a self-affirming path. It has less to do with gaining and more to do with losing. Wilderness as the necessary spiritual path is the recurring narrative of scripture.
A healthy life of faith will contain times of deep darkness. I do not enter darkness willingly. My only hope in dark times comes from a radical trust that healing, salvation, transformation could somehow come through all this. Hope is born in the awareness of God’s wilderness ways and cooperating with them. It is letting go of resistance and acknowledging the necessity of fierce landscapes.
As one author writes:
Someone we trusted fails us; a job we counted on suddenly ends; a child or spouse dies; we are struck blind on the road to Emmaus. Once we arrive there, we are disinclined to call it home. This is why spiritual directors and counselors are often sought in times of transition. We need outward support and encouragement to endure liminal space.
And so, for Lent and in the midst of all the incredible upheaval of this COVID-19 crisis, I am giving up on a God who makes things easy and I chose to embrace (however reluctantly) the wilderness way. Will you join me?