We are now in Lent – a time when many Christians seek to connect with God in a new and deeper way. Lent lasts for forty days because this is how long Jesus spent in the wilderness: ‘At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.’ (Mark 1:12-13)
Throughout this season we are going to be unpacking the theme of Wilderness, exploring the untamed, unresolved side of peacemaking – the places it gets really tough – and how we can continue to encounter God in the midst of this.
The idea of the wilderness comes up again and again throughout Scripture. It describes a place where it is difficult to live, where comfort is scarce and challenges are sharper. It can be lonely and exhausting. But it can also be a place of profound encounter with God. In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the word for ‘wilderness’ (midbar)has the same letters as the word for ‘speaking’ (medabber) and the concept of wilderness has been intimately connected to the idea of God speaking.
The theologian Paula Gooder writes powerfully about the meaning of the wilderness and its particular resonance in Lent:
“Wilderness, both as a location and as a theme, runs all the way through the Old Testament and onwards into the New Testament…All the way through it remains a place of ambiguity, bringing both danger and salvation. Lent is a season that invites us to step into the wilderness with all its ambiguity. It challenges us to be courageous and face the vulnerabilities we might naturally shy away from. It summons us to learn lessons about ourselves: who we are and who God calls us to be. It suggests that while what we fear most might sometimes bring exactly what we expect, at other times it can bring salvation and hope.”
Building relationships across difference and division does not always lead neatly to the outcome we want or expect. Sometimes we are journeying with unanswered questions rather than moving towards their resolution. Sometimes we meet resistance in ourselves or others. Sometimes the signs of new life are few and far between.
Over the coming weeks we will be sharing the stories of people of faith who are grappling with this wilderness as they try to cross divides, navigate disagreement and practise forgiveness. They will share with honesty the grief and uncertainty inherent in their experiences, as well as the places they find hope and the courage to continue. Our prayer is that they will encourage you in your own experiences of the wilderness, knowing that God can still be at work where we are least able to see it.
Victoria Mason is Editorial Manager and Theological Lead for the Difference team.
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