The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." -Mark 1:1-8
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
The desert wilderness is both a primary and recurring landscape of the soul. A place of danger and unspeakable beauty, of demons, wild beasts, roaming spirits, and temptation, the desert also hosts ministering angels and offers an unhindered sphere for the encounter with God.
John, the forerunner, appears in the desert as a voice in the wilderness, calling for repentance, offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sins and to proclaim the coming of one who will baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
This voice calls, "Prepare the way! The One is coming!" And where does this voice come from? Perhaps from the depth of the thirsty soul alone in the wilderness of daily living (meditation one). Somehow the voice communicates personally and intimately within that depth of being (meditation two). Our very weaknessess and wounds invite the transfiguring power of the Holy Spirit, satisfying us with rivers of living water. "Thus we may irrigate the arid earth of others" (meditation three).
From my wilderness to yours, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) the inner desert
There is a physical desert, inhabited by a few exceptional men and women who are called to live there; but more importantly, there is an inner desert, into which each one of us must one day venture. It is a voice; an empty space for solitude and testing.
-Frere Ivan The Desert and the City quoted from The Desert, An Anthology for Lent
He [John the Baptist] is in the wilderness. Obviously because he finds these surroundings appropriate to his life- the parched solitude, the endless spaces, where no one can feel at home. Inevitably we keep discovering that we too are in the wilderness, the wilderness of a great city, the wilderness of isolation, a wilderness that seems to have no center, a wilderness we cannot feel at home in. And we are also men and women who would live in a wilderness if we have to give our outward environment the shape of that which is within us.
-Karl Rahner 1904-1984 sermon for Advent 3(B) from The Great Church Year
John is indeed a forerunner. He precedes without sure and certain knowledge of whom or what he is serving. He may not himself share the immediate experience of the salvation that has become present in Jesus; he longingly foretells it. What he awaits and expects overtakes him without really catching up with him in the sense of his seeing clearly what he was aiming at.
Surely we are all forerunners! We are all pilgrims on the wearisome roads of our life. There is always something ahead of us that we have not yet overtaken. When we do catch up with something, it immediately becomes an injunction to leave it behind us and to go onward. Every end becomes a beginning. There is no resting place or abiding city. Every answer is a new question. Every good fortune is a new longing. Every victory is only the beginning of a defeat. ?
Aren't we always dispatching messengers from the dungeon of our compulsions and disappointments? We send them to find the real thing, that which is ultimately valid, even though we do not really know where to direct these messengers of our unassuaged longing. ?
Everywhere, always, we are no more than predecessors. The goal of our journeying seems always to remain far ahead of us, to stay beyond our power and always to fade into new perspectives of distance, even when we think we are approaching it.
-Karl Rahner 1904-1984 Meditations on Hope and Love Second Sunday in Advent (yr c) quoted from The Great Church Year
John the Baptist in the Wilderness, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, 1490
Meditation Two (insight) the voice in the wilderness
All I am, says the precursor, is the voice of one crying in the wilderness. How strange! this is a quotation from Isaiah, and here is the voice from the wilderness where everything is swallowed up by the wind, where nothing has any settled shape, where the cry is lost upon the air. Dies away, that is, but is not lost. For though it reaches nothing else, it does reach the one to whom it is addressed.
-Karl Rahner 1904-1984 sermon for Advent 3(B) from The Great Church Year
Meditation Three (integration) the arid earth of others Our brokenness is the wound through which the full power of God can penetrate our being and transfigure us in God. Loneliness is not something from which we must flee but the place from where we can cry out to God, where God will find us and we can find God. Yes, through our wounds the power of God can penetrate us and become like rivers of living water to irrigate the arid earth within us. Thus we may irrigate the arid earth of others, so that hope and love are reborn.
-Jean Vanier The Broken Body 1988 Paulist Press quoted from An Advent Sourcebook (LTP)
The Last Word
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. (1-2)
For the waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirst ground springs of water. (6b-7a) A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way. (8a) -Isaiah 35:1-2,6b-7a,8a
A Way in the Wilderness
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. -Psalm 63:1
The desert wilderness is both a primary and recurring landscape of the soul. A place of danger and unspeakable beauty; of demons, wild beasts, roaming spirits, and temptation, the desert also hosts ministering angels and offers an unhindered sphere for the encounter with God.
The desert evokes the love story of God and Israel. In the wilderness, the Hebrews came to know Yahweh after centuries of slavery in Egypt. Here, Elijah took refuge, David hid from his enemies, Jesus came to be tested.
In more prosperous times, the idea of the desert offered nostalgia. Israel forgets the bitterness of her forty year sojourn but remembers that manna tasted like honey. God forgets the golden calf and proposes to lure Israel back for a second honeymoon. Likewise, the soul forgets the privations and terror of that first plane of disorientation and only remembers opening to the Other.
The soul returns to the desert for wild beauty and wonder, perspective and unbearable intimacy. In this liminal refuge the soul comes for renewal of the sense of longing essential to mystical life. You come to this ambiguous sanctuary to lose self-consciousness, and to gaze at ultimate Consciousness.
John the Baptist dwells in the desert completely dependent upon what God provides for him: locusts and wild honey. Pure and holy, John is the threshold guardian. He guides the way in the wilderness preaching conversion and repentance:
“To be a spectator of Reality is not enough. The awakened subject is not merely to perceive transcendent life, but to participate therein; and for this, a drastic and costly life-changing is required.” -Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism
Turn around. Repent. The Kingdom of God is at hand.