Wilderness

I’ve been reading I, Daniel Blake.  It is a true story, though not real.  The contents of the story are happening all around us, though this particular telling has not actually taken place.  It is in some sense a wilderness book.  It leads us to a place from where there can be no escape if we are unfortunate enough to get within its grasp.  Reading the script you are caught up almost with the protagonists between living and existing.  Wilderness, so we understand it: A place of nothing.  Or a place undiscovered.  Or a place wild and untamed.  In reality wilderness is in direct relation to the human perceiving it.  For no place is truly wild to itself, it is what it is.  A rainforest is a rainforest.  Human perception calls it inhospitable.  The desert is sand.  That humans find it hard to traverse was useful in fact for the early desert fathers, St. Anthony and his band of followers who went out into the desert to escape the business of modern life.  There were no distractions out there in the desert, but then into that silence comes all our issues.  What the desert fathers would have called demons.  And so we begin forty days of wrestling with our demons as we attempt to give up chocolate or take on some other ascetic challenge.  But note the text from Matthew’s Gospel if that is your perception of Lent.  It is only after the forty days of fasting in the desert that the devil comes to Jesus.  Temptation waits with eager longing for the moment when we are most at risk and vulnerable and then leads us to the high mountain, to the pinnacle of the temple or to the bread basket.  These temptations are ours too.  We just don’t see them the same.  For who has not been tempted by cheap and easy food?  Who has not been tempted by destructive living? Who has not been tempted by the glory that power might bring?  Not Jesus, he overcomes the temptations and escapes from the wilderness.  Certainly he is not unscathed.  Wilderness is all around us.  It is just that they don’t look the same as they used to.  For wilderness can be the pages of social media of apparently happy lives broadcast continually to the device in our pocket when all we want to do is scream that all is not well.  It is sitting on a a street corner watching the world pass you by as invisible as the air.    Wilderness can be the world of must have when all you can manage is the day to day of getting by.  When you’re expected to understand a conversation but were lost after the first hello.  Or when the only sound you can make out is the background noise and the voices around you fade into the general hubbub.  Wilderness is a million jobs you cannot apply for and a million more you are overqualified for and the one you can do is taken by the kid who doesn’t care and wastes the weekend pay check against the wall of a pub.  Wilderness is when the skills you do have are deemed no longer important.  When your outward appearance says your doing fine, but inwardly you are crying out for help.  When you try to help those around you make a better life for themselves than you have and all you do is make the situation worse.  Wilderness is slowly pushing those whom you love away because you have forgotten how to say I love you.  Wilderness is not absence, but presence.  The worst wilderness is the one in the mind where internally everything makes complete sense, but none of those around you seem to understand any more.  Wilderness is feeling that you are on your own with no-one who can understand or help.  And at the end of the line come the temptations to take it all away with an easy fix, too good to be true offers and a loan that will never be repaid.  I, Daniel Blake is a wilderness book for it rescues us from our illusions.  If you’ve not read it or seen the film, then I recommend you do.  And I might just, wilderness allowing, revisit it by the time we get to Easter.