05 March 2017

Driven into the Desert by the Spirit of Sonship (Reprise)

I really love today's Gospel, especially at the beginning of Lent. The thing that strikes me most about it is that Jesus' 40 days in the desert are days spent coming to terms with and consolidating the identity which has just been announced and brought to be in him. (When God speaks, the things he says become events, momentous things that really happen in space and time, and so too with the announcement that Jesus is his beloved Son in whom he is well-pleased.) Subsequently, Jesus is driven into the desert by the Spirit of love, the Spirit of Sonship, to explore that identity, to allow it to define him in space and time more and more exhaustively, to allow it to become the whole of who he is. One of the purposes of Lent is to provide the "space" and time  needed to  allow us to do the same.

A Sister friend I go to coffee with on Sundays remarked on the way from Mass that she had had a conversation with her spiritual director this last week where he noted that perhaps Jesus' post-baptismal time in the desert was a time for him to savor the experience he had had at his baptism. It was a wonderful comment that took my own sense of this passage in a new and deeper direction. Because of the struggle involved in the passage I had never thought to use the word savor in the same context, but as my friend rightly pointed out, the two often go together in our spiritual lives. They certainly do so in hermitages! My own director had asked me to do something similar when we met this last week by suggesting I consider going back to all those pivotal moments of my life which have brought me to the silence of solitude as the vocation and gift of my life. Essentially she was asking me not only to consider these intellectually (though she was doing that too) but to savor them anew and in this savoring to come to an even greater consolidation of my identity in God and as diocesan hermit.

Hermitages are places which reprise the same experience of consolidation and integration of our identity in God. They are deserts in which we come not only to learn who we are in terms of God alone, but to allow that to define our entire existence really and concretely -- in what we value, how we behave, in the choices we make, and those with whom we identify, etc. In the "In Good Faith" podcast I did a few years ago for
A Nun's Life, I noted that for me the choice which is fundamental to all of Lent and all of the spiritual life, "Choose Life, not death" is the choice between accepting and living my life according to the way God defines me or according to the way the "world" defines me. It means that no matter how poor, inadequate, ill, and so forth I also am, I choose to make God's announcement that in Christ  I am his beloved daughter in whom he is well-pleased the central truth of my life which colors and grounds everything else. Learning to live from that definition (and so, from the one who announces it) is the task of the hermit; the hermitage is the place to which the Spirit of love and Sonship*** drive us so that we can savor the truth of this incomprehensible mystery even as we struggle to allow it to become the whole of who we are.

But hermitages are, of course, not the only places which reprise these dynamics. Each of us has been baptized, and in each of our baptisms what was announced to us was the fact that we were now God's adopted beloved daughters and sons. Lent gives us the space and time where we can focus on the truth of this, claim that truth more whole-heartedly, and, as Thomas Merton once said, "get rid of any impersonation that has followed us" to the [desert]. We need to take time to identify and struggle with the falsenesses within us, but also to accept and appreciate the more profound truth of who we are and who we are called to become in savoring our experiences of God's love. As we fast in various ways, we must be sure to also taste and smell as completely as we can the nourishing Word of God's love for us. After all, the act of savoring is the truest counterpart of fasting for the Christian. The Word we are called to savor is the Word which defines us as valued and valuable in ways the world cannot imagine and nourishes us where the things of the world cannot. It is this Word we are called both to struggle with and to savor during these 40 days, just as Jesus himself did.

Thus, as I fast this Lent (in whatever ways that means), I am going to remember to allow myself not only to get in touch with my own deepest hungers and the hungers I share with all others (another very good reason to fast), but also to get in touch anew with the ways I have been fed and nourished throughout my life --- the experiences I need to savor as well. Perhaps then when Lent comes to an end I will be better able to claim and celebrate the one I am in God. My prayer is that each of us is able to do something similar with our own time in the desert.

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Merton quotation taken from Contemplation in a World of Action, "Christian Solitude," p 244.

*** A reminder that whether we are daughters or sons of God, our adoption by God gives us a share in Jesus' Sonship. Our own daughterhood or sonship is derivative in nature; that is, it derives from  Jesus' Sonship. Thus I speak of the Spirit of Sonship, not because I am insensitive to the issues of patriarchy or inclusive language, but because my usage here is essentially and primarily    Christological.