Friday, March 7, 2014

Even Jesus Spent Time in the Wilderness

My church shared this post about Lent. This part especially resonates with me:

At Grace Covenant, some of us choose to give things up—like chocolate, social media, or something else. Some of us take on a new practice in service to others. All of these choices are done in remembrance of Jesus’ time spent in the desert overcoming temptations to use power in pursuit of wealth and popularity.

I had no idea that's what Lent was all about. I figured Lent was just a time to get back on the diet you gave up two weeks after you made your New Year's Resolutions. I didn't see how observing Lent was for me. I long ago gave up dieting (and approximately thirty-five years living with an eating disorder) once I read Dr. Linda Bacon's life-changing book, Health at Every Size.

I've been reading about Jesus' time in the wilderness, and I can totally relate. In my lifetime I've spent what seems like more than forty days and forty nights under the covers in bed, struggling, sobbing, unable to get up and face the world. Mental illness is the devil I face. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, whatever you want to call it, I know what it's like to spend time in the wilderness of my soul.

Reading the story of Jesus--the Prince of Peace, the one who told us to love each other, including our enemies, to spend our time serving "the least" of our earthly brothers and sisters--reading about him, alone, out in the wilderness, suffering and tormented by his devil, and finding a way to overcome it, that--that gives me hope.

I'll share some of the text and some of the art images I've found that especially resonate with me. I hope they give you hope too.

Matthew 4:1-11
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Temptation of Jesus

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

"Christ in the Desert" by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, 1872
image source: Wikipedia

"The Temptation of Christ" by Juan de Flandes, circa 1500
image source: Wikipedia

I especially like how, minus the horns, Satan looks human. I personally don't believe in a devil incarnate. I don't believe in "the Devil made me do it" thinking.  When I was growing up, we didn't go to church much, but my mom read parts of the Bible to me, and she shared stories she'd pick up in magazines and on TV talk-shows. I remember Mom told me that the word "hell" also translates to "burning trash dump" and that if someone was told they were going to hell, it meant they were exiled to the outskirts of town, the place where the community burned their trash.

I don't believe in good guys and bad guys. I don't believe in Good Vs. Evil. I don't believe an evil being called Satan is trying to get me to come to the dark side, just as I don't believe Darth Vader really exists and wants Luke to join the Empire with him. But these stories we share with each other are important. They help us feel less alone in our own struggles. They give us hope.

"Jesus Tempted In the Wilderness" by James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894
image source: Wikipedia

"Jesus Ministered to by Angels" by James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894
image source: Wikipedia

I like this one because it reminds me of how I feel as I'm writing a challenging story. I do not believe writers and other artists work alone. The best artists figure out a way to get in touch with their muses, their inner angels, who help lift the stories out of the depths of their souls.