December 14, 2019

Lent 2012: A Journey into the Wilderness

Desert, Igor Ulanovsky

“We are all outside of paradise. We are locked up aboard an unsteerable ship, and we bide our time, unsure of ever reaching land, hungrily eyeing each other as the foodstores fail. We are that tainted generation of former slaves who now must perish in the wilderness on the outside chance that it will help our freeborn children enter into their promised rest.”

A Lent Sourcebook
edited by Baker, Kaehler, Mazar

• • •

The season of Lent begins Wednesday.

The word “Lent” means “spring.” In the Church it refers to the forty day period leading up to Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, it has been the season during which the Church prepared catechumens for baptism at Easter. The practice of Lent recalls Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, while the season also focuses on that portion of the Gospel that depicts Jesus’ journey to the Cross after Peter’s pivotal confession. It was at that point that Jesus began foretelling his Passion and challenging his disciples to take up their cross and follow him as he “set his face toward Jerusalem.”

At ChurchYear.net, we read the following description of the purpose and practices of Lent:

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead. However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit, and help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”

This year, on Internet Monk, we plan a special emphasis to mark Lent.

A Wandering Soul, Ulanovsky

Our theme will be “A Journey into the Wilderness.”

Beginning Ash Wednesday and on most days in Lent, we will post a piece that speaks to this idea. Chaplain Mike will lead the way, but we have petitioned several other writers to join us as well. We have asked them to contribute reflections on Biblical accounts and other texts that speak of the wilderness, essays about personal wilderness experiences, thoughts about what we can learn from church history or biographies about the wilderness (for example, the desert fathers), reflections on literary allusions to the wilderness, original short stories or poems about the wilderness, original artwork, photography, or audio-visual media depicting the wilderness.

In order to focus on this subject, on many days we will only have one post, devoted to contemplating the wilderness journey. In this way, I hope we can serve as “guides” through the various wildernesses people are facing, pointing us all to Jesus, who overcame the testings and challenges of the wilderness during his forty days there.

Jeff will continue to do his weekly “Saturday Ramblings,” and Chaplain Mike will contribute an occasional topical post, but we will give primary attention to spending Lent together in the wilderness.

As we prepare for Lent, here are some good words by Bobby Gross on the Lenten sojourn and journey, from his fine book, Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God:

We can think of Lent as both a sojourn and a journey. We have two opportunities to identify with Jesus, one at the start of his public ministry and one near the end. The sojourn occurs in the desert as Jesus spends forty days alone in self-reflection and discernment of God’s way. The journey takes place on the road to Jerusalem as Jesus moves toward his dark destiny. The sojourn causes us to look inward and acknowledge our human and spiritual vulnerabilities; the journey bids us look outward and weigh the costs of discipleship. Both involve turning.

In the solitary sojourn, we turn away from our sins and temptations and toward God and his great mercy. This is otherwise known as repentance. And while we usually don’t put ourselves in a desolate environment for forty days, we can choose a posture of humility and undertake practices that sharpen our spiritual awareness….

…”When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). Resolutely Jesus turns toward death in fulfillment of his mission, and he asks his followers to go with him. This is the pivot from self-gratification to self-denial, from seeking acclaim to risking scorn, from the seduction of power to the prospect of suffering. In so turning we plunge into the paradox of the cross-and-empty-tomb gospel.

I hope you will join us each day as we journey into the wilderness with Jesus during this Lenten season.

Comments

  1. Looking forward to it. Though sometimes I wished you publish this a month in advance so we pastor types can be “inspired” by them and share them with our congregations.

    • Oh to be a month ahead, Pastor Brendan!

      • A month ahead??? What usually happens in my case is that Jeff kindly and gently emails me asking politely for a piece (instead of yelling at me about getting off my lazy backside and doing something to help, if I can’t keep my big mouth shut in the comments) and I descend into a frenzy of throwing something together which I then email off at the last possible minute, only giving Jeff a couple of hours to edit the thing into some semblance of coherency and get it up in time for the next day 🙂

    • I’m usually always a day behind!!! 😉

  2. “…we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit, and help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.” ”

    .

    I thank God that I am DECLARED Holy and Righteous, for Jesus’ sake.

    No religious ladders to climb. No project of “Christian progression” to engage in (even with “God’s help”).

    “It is finished” means just that.

    _________________________________________________________

    Is there a good purpose in looking at ourselves (during Lent) and then at our Lord and why He had to come? Sure! But that has nothing to do with becoming “more Christlike”. That is totally not needed, and usually is a lot more harmful than it is helpful.

    • Marie Whitehead says

      While “it is finished” as far as my standing with Christ- i.e., I don’t have to “work my way” into His good graces, I still need lots more “transforming” in my daily walk as one of His family. That’s how I see this 40 day journey- looking internally and communing with Jesus and seeing what needs changing in my heart by His grace and then outwardly as I relate to those I encounter. Not just talking the talk but also more walking the walk. “Follow me as I follow Christ”- paraphrase of much Paul spoke of in the NT.

      Thanks for this resource. I look forward to this journey.

      • I hope you have better luck than I have had trying to make myself a better Christian.

        I do love what Gerhard Forde said about Christian sanctification, “Sanctification is forgetting about yourself”.

        And, of course, the Apostle Paul, “He who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion.”

        Thank you, Marie.

    • Becoming more Christlike is totally not needed? Sure its not necessary if your sole objective is to stay out of hell. But it is nonetheless a worthwhile pursuit, because it blesses others when we treat them as Christ treats us. It is an endless source of blessing to oneself to develop more Christlike character, thereby enjoying His peace and walking with a confidence that comes from trust in God. And it is certainly useful for the Church at large to display in increasing measure the character of Christ, in order that her witness to the world might be more faithful and the name of Christ be praised by all.

      Now to be certain, there isn’t really much we can do to make ourselves Christlike. And no matter what the strategy or how much we try to grow, at the hour of our death we will still be closer to Hitler than to Christ. (ad hitlerum alert) But that doesn’t make Christ-likeness and growing in grace completely un-necessary. Let’s just be sure to keep in mind that it is God who is at work in us to will and to work what is pleasing to Him. There is still a value in spiritual disciplines for the Christian, not because we are sanctifying ourselves, but because we are walking in communion with God through them.

      • “Now to be certain, there isn’t really much we can do to make ourselves Christlike.”

        Amen.

        “He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion…”

        Yep. We are free in Christ…to live and love and be the creatures that He made us to be.

        I much prefer to leave the religious ladders to the religiously inclined.

        Thanks, Miguel.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Becoming more Christlike is totally not needed? Sure its not necessary if your sole objective is to stay out of hell.

        Problem is, Miguel, to a LOT of Evangelicals that IS the sole objective. Comes from the Evangelical obsession with the Altar Call/Sinner’s Prayer/Year-Month-Day-Hour-Minute-Second model of Salvation. Sotierology becomes tunnel vision that reduces the Gospel to nothing more than a Fire Escape.

        • Exactly.

          And the problem is the focus. When we start focusing on ourselves and ‘becoming better Christians’…it actually makes us worse.

          When Jesus said to them, “blessed are you for when I was hungry you fed me…”, etc., they looked at Him in amazement. They weren’t aware of ‘doing good’…they didn’t have ‘doing’ on thir mind. When we have ‘doing’ on our minds, our motives are shot to hell. That’s why I believe the Bible tells us that “all our righteous deeds are as filty rags”.

          • Steve, if I may borrow from the concept of the Church as the Bride of Christ for a moment (indulge me) I would like to make a comparison, because I think we are all saying nearly the same thing in differing languages.

            My (earthly) husband is a wonderful and loving man, and has loved me into life and understanding the love of Christ for decades. When I attempt to take my focus off of how tired I am to bring him tea and a snack, when I set down my book to watch HIS favorite TV show and chat about it, when I do the dishes even though it is his TURN……I am changing nothing of his love for me. Nor, at the spiritual level, am I loving HIM more. BUT~~what I AM doing is re-focusing my selfish and childish tendency to focus on me-ME-ME and looking at my beloved. In doing so, I am reminded of his love for me and my desire to deepen our bonds by focusing on him instead of me. And in doing this, I am more grateful to have him in my life, and driven to be even LESS self-absorbed.

            Repentence in all its forms doesn’t buy us heaven, but it sure helps us to focus on how well we are or are NOT accepting and reflecting this miraculous Gift that the Father has given us. It is rolling up our spiritual sleeves and doing the dishes, not because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to be the sort of person who tries in some microscopic way to follow the path that our Brother and Savior showed us about being fully human.

    • Steve,

      Asceticism (whether during Lent or any other time of year) is not about earning anything. It certainly is about becoming more Christ-like, though not in the sense of “HAHA! I gave $20 in alms, said many prayers, and fasted 10 days! Level up!!!!!”

      These things are done, first and foremost, because God commands them to be done. These things are done, because Christ did these things. These things are done because our fathers have done them before us.

      If one wishes to keep the body healthy, does not one exercise it? If one is sick, does not one apply medicine to it? If it is so with the body, then how much then should we give attention to the state of our souls? These acts and disciplines are my spiritual exercise and medication, that I might strengthen and discipline myself, lest I be overcome with temptation and sin.

      Finally:
      “Those who, because of the rigour of their own ascetic practice, despise the less zealous, think that they are made righteous by physical works. But we are even more foolish if we rely on theoretical knowledge and disparage the ignorant. Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice (§11-12).”

      “When the Scripture says “He will reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer. (§22).”

      – St. Mark the Ascetic, “On Those who Think that They are Made Righteous by Works”

      • Tim,

        How about just doing them out of love for the neighbor…with no other motives than to just be of help?

        • That is the goal. But not everyone does that. It is better to start out doing such things because they are commanded, keeping in mind that we are to do them out of love. After doing things so many times with that in mind, it comes more naturally. One would hope, anyways, seeing is that is the goal of these disciplines.

          Personally, I know that I don’t meet that mark. I also know that I am sinful, and need to clean house. I will try and take this time that has been set aside as a reminder for these things, and use the tools at hand to work on myself. I understand that in the end God is the One who effects the change; nevertheless, that does not mean I sit and do nothing. I exercise myself in faith, trusting that God will bring about the changes He promised; furthermore, I see that these things are set before us as good things, and I trust that these things will, if used with proper intentions, bring about good (even if I do not see it or even if the change isn’t in me!).

          I must note, however, in case I somehow came across as “Everyone must do these things!”:
          These are the traditions which have been passed down to us, and I find much good in them. However, a persons disciplines and fasts are not of my concern. Furthermore, I do not judge my brother based on such things. That is between themselves, their spiritual father/pastor/priest/minister, and God.

          Blessings on your Lent, Steve. 🙂

    • Thank you for your thoughts.

      My focus every morning is from Psalms 139:
      Search me, O God, and know my heart;
      Test me and know my anxious thoughts,
      See if there is any offensive way in me, and
      Lead me in the way everlasting.

      So much bombards me every day (anxious thoughts), that I need to stop and ask God every morning to let me know how my heart is doing.

  3. Coming from a mostly non liturgical background I was intending on focusing on Lent particularly this year and wondering how to go about it – so thank you!
    Sometimes the amount of material on this blog is a little overwhelming so I will appreciate having a little less to chew on. Looking forward to the journey…

  4. Thank you. This will be a big help in keeping focus.

  5. I love the season of Lent! Are you planning on doing any communal fastings? Any particular thing we can be praying for in this season?

  6. This past Sunday, for we who are Eastern Orthodox, we celebrated Judgment Sunday…also known as Meatfare Sunday. As of today, we’ve eliminated meat from our diets. The epistle is the one from Corinthians which talks about doing things which may cause a Brother to stumble (like eating meat offered to idols) and the Gospel is the one from Matthew where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats based on feeding, clothing, quenching, visiting… So, yes, these weeks are a time of examining why it is God created us to hunger. Might it be so we would hunger for Him?

    Next Sunday, Forgiveness Sunday, we eliminate all dairy products and eggs from our diets…and so Great Lent begins for us. One of the beautiful things we do as a Church is we go around and ask and receive forgiveness from one another. Literally. From the Oldest to the Youngest, everyone. None exempt. As we forgive each other, we receive forgiveness from God, for isn’t that what Scripture says? Forgive one another as I forgive you?

    My Church is reading Fr Alexander Schmemann’s book, “Great Lent: Journey to Pascha” this year, if anyone is interested.

  7. Joseph (the original) says

    Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”

    question for all the Orthodoxers out there: how developed is this idea of sharing in the “nature” of God?

    1Pet 1:4 Heb 12:10 2Cor 7:1

    as a created being, what is it that we will partake in? moral characteristics? perfected forms of our humanity that shares God’s qualities since we were created in His image???

    • I’m not Orthodox Joseph, but I can tell you: theosis is central to Eastern Christian thought. And, if you look deeply enough, it is central to Western Christian thought. That we, having been saved from sin, are by the power of the Holy Spirit being shaped in conformity with what God wills us to be. In fact, one could say it is the restoration to the fullness of being human- that is, living in Communion with the Holy Trinity.

      I would actually recommend the Wikipedia article on theosis as a start to understand the teaching. It is quite accurate. From there, you can basically Google theosis, and you’ll find tons of things on it.

      Hope that helps, Joseph 🙂

      • Joseph (the original) says

        thanx Tim. i have a less holistic viewpoint that may be the result of my more introspective appreciation of what i sense is the process of transformation i experience…

        i am not sure i can differentiate between soul & spirit, & i would think the process of aging/death in my mortal body is not part of this divine change…

        at least not in this life. this body of mine the vessel that the spirit/soul resides in as it is transformed. and there is some idea of what a glorified body is like since we have the accounts in the gospels of Jesus’ post-resurection appearances. mental acuity? intelligence? emotional capacity???

        the biggest change i can identify is in my attitude. my general outlook. my sensitivity to the things of the kingdom. i am less uptight about performance, yet relaxed & more ready to respond when situations warrant…

        anyway…though there is the theological definition that is helpful, i wonder how others ‘see’ this process happening in themselves…

        blessings… 🙂

        • The important part of theosis is simply this: God is evermore drawing us to Himself, and we given participation in His life. He has promised to make us like He is (as much as any creature can become close to what our Creator is), and He will fulfill this promise.

          “anyway…though there is the theological definition that is helpful, i wonder how others ‘see’ this process happening in themselves…”

          I don’t see it happening, because I don’t focus on it. Jesus is the Light of the world, and the closer I draw to Him, the more I perceive my sin and the more I repent. Certainly I must keep myself in check, especially with my individual pet sins. However, what that means is simply, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a poor sinner.” I then go about doing what is necessary to avoid sin, all the while trusting that God will strengthen and deliver me; that He shall heal my wounds and raise me death.

        • Honestly and without being flippant, I would really like to have the 19-year-old Pattie be the prototype for my glorified body, but keeping what I have learned in the thirty-five years since then!

          • Joseph (the original) says

            i’m with you on that regard! familiar with the old saying, “youth is wasted on the young”?

            well, i have coined its corollary: “wisdom is wasted on the aged…”

            🙂

  8. Glad you folks are preparing for Lent!! My hope is that the missional and reformed crap which pollutes much of Christianity today will be left out of this Lent. Of ocurse one could always have another church plant as a way to kick off Lent.

    Naaaaaaaaaaaaaawwww…. 😀

  9. Chaplain Mike ~ glad we are doing this. I just ordered the book. What particularly interested me is that the author does not come from a liturgical church background and in the book he shares how he came to appreciate and embrace the church year.

    Steve, I appreciate your comments however, Scripture also says we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. That is our legal position as the theology teachers would say. But the place we live this out is here on this earth. The fact of the matter is that most Christians that I know have no clue that we are to be Christ-like. And though I agree with you in many ways I have been walking with the Lord for almost 40 years and it has only been over the past few that I am PAINFULLY aware that God is in fact making me Christ-like. I have suffered betrayal, pain, grief and other circumstances which, believe me, I would never have chosen. And yet I realize that I must experience a “taste” of what Christ experienced. Paul also said that we are now dead and our life is hidden in Christ Jesus. Again, our legal standing. But the death to self, to the old human nature, is a long slow process just as crucifixion is a long agonizing way to die. Having been an evangelical, fundamentalist etc. I “bought into the victory in Jesus” which is also true. But the very word victory tells me that there is a battle. And the practices of Lent (self-denial etc.) are part of that battle as I see it.

    • Adrienne,

      In my opinion, I think Christians who don’t know that they are supossed to be Christlike, are better off. Then they can just love people and help them without the taint of self-motivation (trying to do, because we are told to do).

      Thanks.

      • Steve, my friend, a Christian who does not know s/he is supposed to be Christ-like is an oxymoron………unless such a person is under the age of reason or is mentally challenged.

        • Pattie,

          It’s like telling someone that ‘they have to breathe’.

          It comes naturally without thinking about it. When Christ is in us, He is a part of us. He will manifest Himself without our attempting to do that for HIm.

          When you get people thinking about their religious performance…then you have spolied the pure glass of water with the taint of ink (self).

          Thanks, Pattie.

  10. Joseph (the original) says

    the spambots are trying to ‘cash in’ on Lent…

    this one has found a way in. not sure why, but they might be thinking we discuss so much of the money-making ventures with ‘Christian’ (TM) associated with it they must think we all are interested in being rich, healthy, & influential…

  11. But it’s not Lent yet! Here we are gearing up for Shrove Tuesday with the p?czkis.