Lent begins this week, and again Wendell Berry comes to mind. I’m not sure why his words circle around my Lenten seasons but they seems to and I am glad for them.
Lent begins and “again I resume the long lesson…”
Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.
These are lines from Berry’s Sabbath 1999 poems, but let them ring in Lent this year. Again we resume the long lesson of small things. The simple lesson that takes us years of circling to finally work into the fabric of our hearts. Maybe it takes all the years. Maybe that’s the point.
A small thing might be Jesus’ no in the wilderness. Like Moses listening for the Spirit and seeking a new land, Jesus walked through the wilderness, listening and seeking. His ministry was ahead of him, the road to Jerusalem only glimpsed and the disciples not yet called. His wilderness was one of solitude.
Most of the time, I feel more like Moses than Jesus. Trailing the Israelite crowds to and from school every day. Worrying about whether or not they are really listening as I try to give them some good rules to live by. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to retreat on my own. With Plum on my back and my hands full of bigger children’s hands and backpacks and lunch boxes and abandoned duffel coats and worries about this and that and hurt feelings and what to eat for snack when we eventually do get home, I can feel so heavy that I forget who I am. There is something tempting about being alone in the wilderness for forty days.
But we read that after forty days and nights, Jesus was hungry. For food, of course, but I’m sure he was also hungry for company. Solitude can also stretch us thin as much as weariness. We are made for relationship and, when we are alone and out of context, we can lose the threads of our identity. So the tempter was crafty. He prefaced his temptations with if you are the Son of God. A subtle if. If you are who you thought you might be, act on these temptations and you will know.
If you are.
And with a small no, Jesus swept away the precarious suggestions. He said no to the doubt of his identity. He refused power and claimed love instead. He denied the right of the tempter to question his calling and made the ground firm beneath his own feet once more.
That firm ground – the mind satisfied and at rest – is also ours to claim. Whether the days are crowded or lonely, whether we are thin with hunger or worn out with worries, whether we feel alone or unseen or overwhelmed, the firm ground is ours through Christ. We don’t have to stand alone in the hungry wilderness, because Christ stood there first. And when the subtle voice suggests and questions in our ears, he has already spoken the answer aloud.
If you are a son of God
a daughter of God,
if you are a child of God
if you are…
You don’t need to prove it.
Rest in the knowledge of that long lesson and find peace within it as these Lenten days begin.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. Romans 8:16