St James' Blog

Wilderness

Wilderness

The season of Lent is upon us very quickly this year. No sooner have we celebrated Candlemas with its celebratory tones then we find ourselves gathering for Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. Maybe if all the churches agreed that Easter should be on a fixed calendar date then we would allow ourselves a little more breathing space.

On the first Sunday of Lent we will hear again Luke’s account of the time that Jesus spent in the desert and what tests he was put through by the devil. The passage starts with these words:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. (Lk 4:1-2a)

So what do we understand by the word ‘wilderness’? Looking at the Oxford English Dictionary we are told that it is an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region. But maybe that is not the whole picture? For Christ went into the wilderness after his baptism in the River Jordan by John to refine and discover what it means for him to be God’s suffering servant. Whatever he will discover and whatever will happen to him there are part of the leading and directing of God.

The season of Lent is a time for us to consider afresh our calling as Christians. One way to do this is by coming to the Lent course each Wednesday evening. We will be using as our core text a series of reflections by Bishop Stephen Cottrell on the paintings of Stanley Spencer entitled ‘Christ in the Wilderness’. We will each have a postcard of the painting being considered that week and see how it speaks to us and how that fits in with Bishop Stephen’s thoughts.

Hopefully by looking at these paintings, we will feel that we have been invited to enter the desert through the doorway of our imagination. Rowan Williams points out that ‘a desert is an unpopulated place, and if we are to let God give what God wants to give we must somehow find that unpopulated place in ourselves’. We therefore need to approach the pictures that we will see and the words that we hear with openness, allowing ourselves to be surprised, challenged, comforted and disturbed. To be led by the Spirit of God to ….?

Life is spent so often in glances. We glance at the newspaper, the TV screen, our i pads, as images flash before us as we search for the next. Everything has to be instant and fast moving, a click and it is before us in half a second. This course will be an opportunity for the pictures to be still and for us to do the moving. We will enter the stillness and depth of the image and let it speak to us slowly. We will stay with one image each week and rather than fussing after more, we may find that desert, that wilderness that can bring great reward.

No one owns a desert, a wilderness, it is by its very nature no one’s property. We come to it to be alone and to be place ourselves in the presence of God. In our daily lives we may be ‘owned’ or ‘possessed’ by all sorts of things – our anxieties, our ambitions, our agendas, our fantasies, our lust for more, but in the desert we are put back in touch with raw and basic necessities. We are, with Jesus, between the animals and the angels, between the basics of heaven and the basics of earth.

As Rowan Williams also said, ‘the journey into the desert is a journey into a particular kind of spaciousness.’ A spaciousness where we can find ourselves and we can find Christ.

Our Lent course runs from Wednesday 17 February at 7.30pm for five weeks. Each session looks at one painting and therefore is a standalone session. I do hope that you will want to take this opportunity to explore and allow yourself to find Christ in the Wilderness this Lent.

With love

Fr Paul

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