I never wanted grief to be my specialty; never wanted to know so intimately what it is to lose so much or so many whom I have deep loved and known. I never wanted the sparse, parched earth that is wilderness to become so familiar, to be able to trace the rugged landscape from memory, feel the rough hewn stones scrape my flesh over again. Today I am full aware that it has been eleven winters since it all began, grief upon grief and sorrow unto sorrow; eleven seasons of snow since the first phone call in the night, the first tragic, unfathomable loss which has now been made fresh as I relive and rehearse in yet another unspeakable loss. Broken, calloused, stunned and stumbling I walk into wilderness again.
I look for words like manna, search under rocks and rubble for clarity and insight, I want to understand, want to name, need to make sense of bitter terrain. I look for the words of others, scan Amazon for new releases, download ancient rabbi’s and dessert mothers, I am desperate for the stories of those who have come through, I am desperate to know someone who has been where I am. I wonder if anyone in this century has had anything to say, so many in my own time lured into fragile theologies that lack any acceptance of, humbling before, reckoning unto suffering. We run hard into glory and alliterate our pain and spiritualize the craggy, dusty, wasteland of wilderness though for Jesus wilderness was an integral passage along the way.
In the Hebrew, midbar, wilderness, means literally, a place without words. There is something so honest in this which is the reason that I love this ancient language, it always tells the truth. The wilderness is the place of searching, straining, longing for words.
We remember Jesus in the wilderness, led by the Spirit there, attended, kept, sustained by the Spirit as he faced the grueling temptation of choosing what seemed most logical, the sensible path, that which was destruction but looked like milk and honey. He resisted, he came through, found his way to hold onto the words of his past. He recounted words written deep into his person, words that formed belief and though he may not have had any faith to muster, he clung to words that had been stamped upon his heart, words that he had known before the harsh, bitter wilderness.
As you walk through this season, intentionally or by force of the circumstances of life, remember the words that washed over you in your in your baptism, words that held you in the night, recall the words that remind you who you are and to whom you belong. Find ways to mark your path and know the sustaining presence of the Spirit with you and for you through it all.