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HIghway in the desert

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

From John 1
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world … I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.”

The desert where John lived was alive and active. Deserts always are. I spent a night in the Arizona desert when our car broke down on a dirt road fifty miles north of Route 66. The stars were brighter than I’d ever seen. The day’s intense heat turned very cold. Unseen animals wailed and sang. Our fire’s embers crackled. We took turns sleeping. In the morning a car came by on the track leading from Havasupai and picked us up. That adventure ended well.

John was often alone and he learned to listen beyond his ears for the sounds of spirit. Pascal over-generalized, “All of humanity’s problems stem from one man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” For sure we’ve unlearned what John and the Nazarites over-learned. And it’s bad for us.

St. Anthony inspired many pilgrims to make their way away from Christian cities to the desert in Egypt. They learned at first to live alone, but soon to live as well in community. Finding that balance became much of their life-work. How to be men and women of contemplation AND action? How to know God and keep his commandments, many of which have to do with loving others and sharing with each other?

Jesus is going to be our way-maker, the Rabbi/Teacher that brings God to earth and shows us how to live. His life is easy for us to idolize and idealize. We rightly worship Jesus as God, but then we lower expectations for ourselves.

I put Jesus on a pedestal, but he won’t stay up there for long before he jumps off and says, “Follow me.” The problem is that when he jumps off, I can easily get stuck just looking up at the empty stage. Eventually I might even put something or someone else up there to gaze at. Which gives me something to do while I’m not following Jesus. This is not a good way to live.

John baptized his cousin Jesus, and Jesus promptly followed John’s example and left to spend forty days in his own desert. Coming out, he knew for sure that his Abba Father would never leave him. God showed him the imagination and compassion that would guide him every day of the next three years. He wants to show us too.

That is the path taken by Anthony and the desert fathers. That is the path of Benedict and Dominic and Francis and Luther and Zwingli and Wimber and Graham and Merton and … it’s the path we are all called to follow, however imperfectly, in this brand new year.

Jesus, give me strength to put my actions where my mouth is. Make my life less excuse-driven. Let me claim your presence and receive your forgiveness every day, and do the good you call me to. I want to follow you. There is nothing else.

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