Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent - Sr. Kathleen Atkinson

Mark 1.12-15
Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent
February 22, 2015
Kathleen Atkinson, osb

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, shares this advice from her teacher.
It is short, like today’s Gospel from Mark, and it’s as challenging:

Confess your hidden faults.
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, let it go.
Go to places that scare you.

“Go to places that scare you,” like the desert and darkness and void.

Without the longer narrative of Jesus and Satan in battle, Mark simply tells us that Jesus remained in the desert for forty days.

“Approach what you find repulsive,” like the temptation and sin we prefer to leave unnamed.

Without explanation or accusation, Mark simply tells us that Jesus remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.

Jesus didn’t flee when faced with temptation or desert beasts; he remained - strong, focused, knowing. Stripped of illusions, letting go of pretense, breaking open arrogance and superficiality - the desert is the place of stark knowing. Even about that which you and I don’t want to know, we can’t turn our eyes. The desert is the place of knowing.

There’s a country song that gently speaks of this desire to want to avert our eyes and remain naïve on some level. The refrain is this:

I wish somehow I didn’t know now
What I didn’t know then

I wish somehow I didn’t know that men, women, and children walked the Bismarck streets last night - trying to stay warm.

I wish I didn't know that 1 in 28 United States kids went to bed last night with a parent in prison or jail.

I really wish I didn’t know painful things in my personal world and in our shared world; I wish I could go on and on pretending that brokenness doesn’t happen and all is pleasant and nice. I don’t want desert knowing; none of us do.

So, let’s take courage in today’s Gospel: Jesus didn’t go into the desert willingly, either. He was driven there by the Spirit.

This Lent, accept the challenge: let yourself become driven
by the Spirit
to the places that scare you.

Think for a moment. What are the places that scare you? What have the desert times of your life released? What wild beasts find you in vulnerable moments of nothingness as they creep into your thoughts day and night?

Stripped of all pettiness and busy-ness and pretense, these are the demons we need to face in the desert. Be driven there this Lent.

All titles are taken away, all defense mechanisms stripped; left with the shocking realization that everything you thought was you, everything you held onto so desperately, was precisely nothing. Be driven there this Lent.

But remember - Jesus was waited upon by angels. And came forth strong.
Proclaiming God’s reign at hand in this, the time of fulfillment.

This Lent, let us take time to enter the desert and let ourselves ‘know’ the demons that are part of our lives - internally and within us as a monastic community and us as a global community. Don’t yield to the temptation to flee. Remain.

Let us be angels waiting on one another - not trying to patch things up, fill up the nothingness, or provide trivial distraction. Let us be angels who stand by and give faithful witness to the power of desert knowledge; let us be angels who provide sustenance through a listening ear, a gentle question, a touch on the shoulder of one who is suffering.

The nothingness we fear so much is, in fact, the treasure that we long for, isn’t it?
The space where there is nothing to prove and nothing to protect; where I am who I am, God is at hand, and it’s enough.

Be driven there this Lent.


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