“The desert is a place of great undoing.” Ryan Kuja
“The Bible abounds in references to the desert and the wilderness. Encounters with God, both directly and through prophetic voices, took place in scenes of desolation. God spoke on an empty stage, knowing how easily the sound of rivers diverted human attention.” Yi-Fu Tuan
(In case you’re wondering if Yi-Fu Tuan is a Confucius mentor, he is not, he is a Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Wisconsin, and Ryan Kuja is a modern day Christian contemplative, not a Hindu mystic.)
I have been reading and rereading a book on desert and mountain spirituality by a fellow named Belden C. Lane titled The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. I began reading this before the corona virus emerged into our lives. I think I was being prepared for what has come upon us as the virus is our desert experience. It is undoing us and certainly there are many churches with empty stages. This is an opportunity for an encounter with a God we don’t know; maybe he has our attention, and we can avoid being distracted by rivers streaming entertainment.
I don’t know about you, but this excites me, an adventure with a God I don’t know. How comfortable we have become with a known God who works in ways we understand, through books and sermons and pastors that have answers for us; it’s spiritual comfort food. The only path to spiritual growth, or making changes in our personal life, that I have ever experienced is through being undone with what I was already doing. And while having a Mr. Rogers in the Neighborhood is pleasant and comforting, it is insufficient for actual transformation.
The desert makes you look and listen; let’s embrace this moment.
There is much more to say, but I know we are scrolling through pages on Facebook.
Invisible and Unseen Real
It is perhaps significant that our world, the entire world, is confronted with a silent, invisible enemy that can only be confronted, at this point, by social isolation. My wife Carolyn and I had dinner with friends last night, so we did not isolate; there was one child, and six adults, a total of 7 so we were within the 10 person limit. We mostly practiced social distancing but probably made mistakes, like touching our face, or hugging someone, and if any one of us has the virus we likely infected each other.
Carolyn and I also walked to the grocery store yesterday and practiced social distancing and hand washing when we got home, but again if anyone in that store was infected, it is likely we were exposed or that we have already been exposed. We have both been in the grocery store at times when it was very crowded. The virus is here, and we are exposed, and this makes us all vulnerable.
The irony is that we can only connect with one another in a meaningful way when we are vulnerable and we are more vulnerable right now because of an invisible enemy that can only be defeated with social isolation. When we most need each other we cannot readily turn to each other. Virtual connecting through social media or faces on a screen is not actual, face to face in the same space connecting, no matter how we frame (no pun intended) it.
I am a spiritual person, I believe in an unseen reality best known, I believe through Jesus Christ. There are different expressions of a Christian experience of the unseen real, and they all have their benefits and disadvantages in expressing the truth about God. The primary expression includes a vulnerable Jesus who before He overcomes, He succumbs. Americans seem to like focusing on the overcoming not the succumbing part of the story, but the overcoming does not happen without the succumbing. The resurrection does not happen without the crucifixion. We do not have life unless we lose our life. And what life are we to lose?
With Covid-19, the virus that originated in China, our life as we know it has been overturned, upended and disrupted. You could say it has been lost and lost for an uncertain period as we don’t know when it will end. If we are not infected by the virus, we are affected by the virus. The entire world has succumbed to its effects; the silent, invisible and unseen virus has brought the entire world to its knees. And no one fired a shot.
One of the great creeds of the Christian faith is found in Philippians 2:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Maybe we can view this virus as a prophetic reminder that the Christian path is one of succumbing, being on our knees and becoming “nothing”, or, as in other translations, “he emptied himself”; and so we empty and humble ourselves, even unto death. There is little about us that embraces this, but the invisible and unseen has moved us down a path that can lead to deep connection with a God who loves us. When there is nothing left of us, there is only Him.