One Day in the wilderness

onedayposterAnd so begins the long dark teatime of the soul – or Lent as we call it.  To counter the drab feelings that this season can throw up, I like to indulge in a book.  You’ve been offered a number of worthy titles already, however, the title I’d like to reflect on for Lent would probably not make an authorised reading list if there were such a thing. It is a love story, a story of being lost and found, and a story about the wilderness of life.  A story of life, death and resurrection.  During Holy Week I’ll invite you to watch the film starring Anne Hathaway.  The story is ‘One Day.’  If you’ve not seen it, I’ll try not to give the plot away too soon.  The story revolves around two characters, Emma and Dexter.  They have just graduated from university in Edinburgh and are about to embark on the rest of their life.  The story is told from the perspective of 15th July, St. Swithun’s day.  We meet them each year on this day for twenty years.  Much like the stories we read in the bible, we need to fill in the bits in between.  We are left to work out exactly what might have happened in the intervening 364 days.  Significant events are not recorded.  “meet me tomorrow” leaves us guessing as to the conversation.  I find it all too similar to the biblical narrative which tells a story and focuses on specific events.  Today we begin Lent.  Jesus withstands the temptations.  Dexter does not.  Our text from Luke suggests that Jesus ate nothing for forty days and at the end was famished.  Then the devil comes to him.  I am tempted to suggest that university life can be a bit of a wilderness.  I met many students who went through it feeling lost, searching for something.  When they reach the end there is often a temptation to take the first job offered.  The pressure of success or failure is great.  Dexter leaves university with an awful degree and begins a car crash of a career in television.  Stones into bread? well, perhaps.  He certainly succumbs to the temptation to be powerful and famous at the cost of his friends.  He often behaves as if ‘angels will gather him up’ when his lifestyle becomes self destructive.  It is often when we are at our lowest ebb that we, like Jesus, are tempted.   We often understand wilderness as a place where there is nothing at all.  Though I feel that the biblical image of wilderness is rather different under the surface.  The wilderness in the bible is a place where God was to be found.  If we are willing to put our trust in him.  It is a place to put trust in the Lord and not to be tempted.  The Deuteronomist neatly skips over the time that the Israelites were in the wilderness, moving from slavery in Egypt to the Land of Milk and Honey in one sentence.  Some have suggested that it didn’t actually happen!  Forty years of wandering and not trusting in the Lord forgotten in an instant.  Testing times are often forgotten – put to one side.  Dexter remains in the wilderness life.    He puts his trust in money, success, alcohol and Emma is the only one who is able to draw him out, though even she admits at one point that he is not very nice anymore.  Another character suggests of Dexter – “Emma made you decent.”  As if he was unable to do it for himself.  I guess that is the challenge of being in the wilderness, we need to find our Emma.  She herself is not immune to the temptations of post university life either.  Finding herself in an all new wilderness, London.  A place where no-one knows her, or cares and in a ‘Stones into Bread’ job of a Tex-Mex restaurant rather than the writing as she had planned.  Not surprisingly, it is Dexter who draws her out.  Salvation comes in the strangest of guises.  So as Lent begins and we ponder forty days of abstinence or self denial.  I wonder whether it might be a good time to reappraise the wilderness and begin to look for that which we can do, rather than that which we ought not do.  To look for, like Emma and Dexter, one in whom we can put our trust to lead us away from the temptations that we face.  The real frightening thing about the wilderness is that we may come face to face with ourselves.  When we do, we need the courage to face up to what we see.  Both Dexter and Emma fail in this regard, unable to voice what is obvious to us as we look on.  I suppose that is one reason I like them so much.  They are real, complicated and driven by the same desires that we are.  As we get to know them a little better this Lent, perhaps they will be able to draw us through the wilderness and show us that there is something worthwhile to be found amid the dust and ashes.  The land of milk and honey is not so far away.

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