Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites. For the Hebrew people the wilderness was a physical place--the wilderness of the Arabian peninsula between Egypt and modern day Israel/Palestine. But the wilderness was also a state of mind. It was the state of mind of being thrust into a place of uncertainty that has a yet undetermined ending.
Many of the Israelites may not have chosen to go into the wilderness, yet that is where they found themselves physically and spiritually. They had no idea how long they would be wandering with Moses. They did not know when it would end. They did not know where they would find food (at least in the beginning) or where they would find water. But God provided. God walked with them in the uncertainty. God walked with them in the wilderness.
Lent and the Wilderness
I have found this state of wilderness to be such a powerful metaphor for our current moment, especially since we are in the season of Lent. We do not know how long schools and businesses will be closed. We do not know how long social distancing and self-quarantines will last. We do not know much. Again, I imagine the Hebrew people, wandering through the wilderness, following the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day felt similar. They did not know how long they would be following God as they made their way to the Land of Promise.
This uncertainty is unlike anything else many have ever experienced. I imagine this may be what it feels like to receive the news of an unexpected and tragic medical diagnosis. Perhaps there are brothers- and sisters-in-Christ who have been journeying through a terminal illness who can guide the rest of us? Perhaps there are those who are journeying with Parkinsons or MS or FA or any number of illnesses without a cure who can show us the way with their wisdom and strength?
Learning to Depend on God
During the Wilderness wanderings, the Hebrew people learned to radically depend upon God for everything. For direction. For water. For food. Each year, Lent provides us with an opportunity to repent and turn towards relying upon God.
But this year, we actually have to radically rely upon God for emotional and spiritual sustenance. It is easy to go through the motions, saying we are going to give things up during Lent in order to focus our attention upon and return to God, but then not really do it.
Not this year. This year we actually have to do what we said we will do. And that can be very difficult. Especially when we do not really know how long our Lenten season of wilderness wanderings will last. But what an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime (I hope) opportunity to really, truly radically depend upon God.
I do not know how long all of this will last. I do not know how long we will be wandering in the wilderness together. And that is okay. It is okay not to be in control. It is not easy, but it is necessary for our spiritual maturation. This I do know--God will provide all we need and even more. God will be with us in the wilderness. We will not be alone. May the words of the Psalmist be our prayer today and each day.
I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:13-14 (NIV)
Nick Marlatt is a member of the Project on Rural Ministry's Rust Belt Cohort. He is also pastor and head of staff at Ohio United Presbyterian Church in Aliquippa, PA, where he has served since completing an MDiv at Regent College, Vancouver in 2013. Prior to entering the ministry Nick worked as a park ranger at Cape Disappointment State Park in southwest Washington. He and his wife Kortney enjoy outdoor adventures and spending time with their three daughters.