As we move into Lent and prepare for the journey to Jerusalem and the cross, we always start with Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. The wilderness has become a metaphor for so
much. It is a place to be feared, to be vulnerable, a place that is uncontrollable with no clear navigation through it. At the same time, it is a place of extreme beauty, of peace, of spiritual, emotional and physical quests and experiences. Somehow the wilderness holds these seemingly opposites together.
The poets, prophets and preachers have used the wilderness metaphor to talk about a place where we face our fears and learn to trust. It becomes the description of the meeting
place with God.
In her book, Braving the Wilderness; the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone, (the sub-title is important), Brene Brown starts with the feeling that belonging is what we all need and crave. She found Maya Angelou’s quote difficult to agree with: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every pace – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” Surely, we all need to belong somewhere, and with someone. The book is Brene’s research and journey to understanding that the wilderness is not somewhere where we have the courage to go, but the courage to become the wilderness.
Brown’s definition of true belonging is this; “the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are”. Mostly, we find groups that make us feel like we belong. We don’t have to worry too much about what we think because we all think the same. That is until you must start self-policing
just in case you say or do something out of the ‘normal’. There is a big difference between fitting in and belonging. Once you have braved the wilderness you will never allow yourself just to fit in. Pretending we are something we are not is no longer an option. But to brave the wilderness and stand alone requires a connection to something greater than us. Courage to stand alone, to brave the wilderness, comes from a power beyond us. It sounds like Jesus saying that foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head. It is a hard place to be but the only place he could be.
No one chooses the wilderness. Jesus was lead into the wilderness by the spirit. But once we find a true sense of belonging, once we find that we are the wilderness, then we return voluntarily, like Jesus, often. The wilderness re-energises and challenges. And we will find it not a barren place but one populated by the poets and prophets, risk-takers and unconventional thinkers.
Prepare for Easter with some wilderness time.