Lent 2023: 1st Week
Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:1–11
‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’“ 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ “ 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’“ 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’“ 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Dry Whisperings in the Wilderness
by David Morrison
The desert is a constant theme in the spiritual life of Israel and early Christians. In fact, the lone figure going away into a hostile environment to face the faceless is a major theme in every spiritual tradition and myth in human history. Indeed, every human being has an interior desert. It’s that place of our traumas, fears, and all that’s unseen and unheard within us. Our instinctive response to it is to avoid taking any trips into that emptiness within. The rest of our energy is spent on keeping the desert at bay by building the structures of self-sufficiency and relevancy, religion, and power in front of the dunes that pile up. Of course, these are the very things Jesus resisted and overcame in his temptation, and they’re so often the very things historic Christendom has anointed and validated.
The spiritual journey begins when we’re no longer driving away from the desert or keeping it from coming to us, but being “led by the Spirit” into it. For some, this initiation comes as a slight stirring in the heart, and for others, it arrives in the form of a complete overturning of life circumstances. What do we do when we find ourselves “staring into the abyss, and the abyss staring back into us?” It’s here that contemplative prayer becomes a doorway that appears when all other ways are lost to us. From the text, I get the sense that Jesus seems to be practicing a prototype of “Lectio Divina.” That is, taking a scripture and ruminating it over and over in the mind until it spills into the heart and awakens the imagination. The process of prayer is effective for dealing with the trauma of our deserts as it helps absorb the patterns of compulsive thought that assail us when we’ve suffered pain. This often breaks into a contemplative state in which we simply rest in the present moment and therefore in the presence of God with “angels ministering to us,” as it were.
The ultimate aim of prayer is to be emptied of all prayer. In the wilderness of our own temptations, we feel the friction of the wind as it whispers the story of our subterranean woundedness. It’s in this very aridity that the Holy Spirit teaches us to extract stillness from our restlessness; solitude from our isolation, and the “word of the Spirit” from our interior chaos. The spiritual journey always brings us to the desert of our weaknesses and fragile vulnerabilities, and it’s here that we experience transformation within our trauma. Real prayer begins when we pray out of our poverty, and when we experience this real kind of prayer—Real life begins.
Prayer of Abandonment
by Charles de Foucault
Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
and with boundless confidence,
For you are my Father.
The Desert Way
by David Morrison
In my trials, Oh Lord, You provide passageways in the desert:
You are my Way when there is no other way.
You are my Way when there are too many ways before me.
Let all my ways flow into Your Way,
for you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life;
And You, Yourself are my Bread in the Wilderness.
*Banner Image: Filtered photo by David Morrison, 2021