I think of Lent as a season in the wilderness, and I don’t think of the wilderness as, necessarily, a “bad” place to be.
The Bible views the wilderness, as it views so many other things, paradoxically. On the one hand, a wilderness is an abandoned or uncultivated place” which lay beyond the fringes of settled society, an uninhabited, desolate, and lonely place. On the other hand, the Bible celebrates the wilderness as a place where God begins new things in the lives of men and women.
Moses was on the back side of the wilderness when God called him to be the deliverer of Israel. After the Exodus, God handed down the Law to Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. Only after wandering in the wilderness did the people of God make it into the land of Promise. Why did God lead them into the wilderness? Because the move from one way of living into another often requires a sojourn in the wilderness. God took Israel into the wilderness in order to disengage them from the habits and assumptions of slavery, and to prepare them for their life in the land of promise. It took only a short while for God to take them out of slavery; it would take longer to take slavery out of them.
Jesus began his public ministry in the wilderness, where he submitted to baptism at John’s hands. After his first sermon, Jesus went back into the wilderness to wrestle with temptation. Before Jesus chose his first disciples, he retreated into the wilderness to pray.
Often, when God begins something new, God does so by bringing people into the wilderness. While the wilderness can be a place of exile and abandonment, it can also be a place of encounter and communion. The desert can be a place of danger and difficulty, but it can also be a place of refuge and retreat. So, when God led Israel from slavery into the wilderness, God intended for it to be a place and time of growth. There in the desert–in-between deliverance and destiny and in-between promise and fulfillment–there were lessons to learn.
Do you recall what Carl Jung said about mid-life?
Are there perhaps colleges for forty year olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world?. . . We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening.
Mid-way through a life, or mid-way between promise and fulfillment, we need new insights, and the wilderness may well be the place where we discover them. Lent can be a wilderness in time, a place, a season, to search for, or to be found by, what we will need on the next stretch of our journey.