The desert places of the heart… pour your living water that I may live in abundance and hope…
Emptiness can feel heavy on the soul if its energy is fed by a longing for something that cannot be satisfied, for love in a loveless relationship, youth in the autumn years, for plenty in the midst of extreme poverty, perfect beauty, for the live touch of someone dead…
Desert places are not without life. Nature has an extraordinary capacity to make life happen, even in the most inhospitable places of the earth, a flower, a creature, an insect, a life. It is this persistent resilience in the breath of creation, so intrinsic to the act of divine will that shaped it, that is proclaimed by the living story of Jesus Christ.
Just a few weeks ago we were marking his birth, God incarnated, fleshed, breathed into the shape of the creature bearing his likeness, the last and crown of all his creativity. In that moment of connection, divinity collided with the outcast, the poor, the powerful, the violent, the hateful and despised, the vulnerable and fragile, changing all beyond recognition… Now we journey irresistibly on into the desert, arid, empty, without distraction, the naked self, as Jesus struggles with hunger and thirst for forty days and nights.
What food and drink taunt him as he wrestles with self? “This is my body, this is my blood… if you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have life”? What metaphors substitute essential bread and water? Pride, greed, impatience, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, abusing power, having one’s own way, cutting corners, isolation, loneliness? “If you are the Son of God…, turn stones into bread, throw yourself from the pinnacle of the temple and worship evil?”
I confess that I feel fragile. My mother’s death, poignantly revisited as I remember and mark the first anniversary and dread Mothering Sunday, wrenches at parts of my vulnerable humanity that are inclined to insecurity, shallow roots, stones and thistles very nearby. The desert, unaccountably, feels an overwhelmingly welcoming place, empty, naked, raw, but, miraculously, not without life. In such a place Jesus confronted the shadows of his own nature, his fears, his innermost reluctances. But there also, inevitably, mercifully, he assumed the strength of resolve to live love to its fullest breath of compassion and forgiveness, a breath that impregnates abundant life into the most inhospitable, intractable, recesses of the human heart and mind.
Nothing, no one, not the darkest sphere or harshest reality are beyond the reach of the one who hungered and thirsted in the desert and then, lovingly, poured living water, gushing up to eternal life.