In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Matthew 3:1-12
Ax laid to the root of the tree, Baptism of Jesus, Unkn Illus. Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale
About This Week's Prompts for Personal Meditation
Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees. That is, the end-time is coming - as we all know. Nevertheless, while contemplating John's message this year, the image of streams in the desert rose up within me like a font of living water. So I gathered quotes relating to the desert and to water.
“The desert is a good teacher” especially if you begin to forsake those traits and temptations which form obstacles to love of God and neighbor (meditation one). Tears heal and revive you (meditation two) as does the power that comes through our brokenness, and, consequently, the ability to heal others (meditation three).
May this Advent bring forth fountains of healing waters. -Suzanne
Meditation One (insight) streams in the desert
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.
The desert is a good teacher. It is a place where we do not die of thirst. It is a place where we rediscover the roots of our existence. Once we grasp this lesson, we realise that the physical desert is not necessary to lead the life of a hermit. It then becomes pointless to go in search of a desert on the globe. You can find your desert in a corner of your house, on a motorway, in a square, in a crowded street. But you must first renounce the slavery of illusions, refuse the blackmail of pressure, resist the glitter of appearances, repudiate the domination of activity, reject the dictatorship of hypocrisy. Then the desert becomes a place where you do not go out to see the sand blowing in the wind but the Spirit waiting to make his dwelling within you.
-Alessandro Pronzato Meditations on the Sand quoted from The Desert: An Anthology for Lent
A brother once sorrowfully asked Sisoes the Great: "Father, what can I do? I have fallen into sin." The Staretz answered him: "Rise again." The brother said: "I rose up and fell." The Staretz answered: "Rise again." The brother answered: "How often must I fall and rise up?" The Staretz said: "Until your death."
-Ignatius Byranchaninov 1807-1867 Ordinary Graces
[Conversion] "is a disturbance of the equilibrium of the self, which results in the shifting of the field of consciousness from lower to higher livels, with a consequent removal of the centre of interest from the subject to an object now bright into view: the necessary beginning of any process of transcendence."
-Evelyn Underhill 1875-1941 Mysticism
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots... On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. Isaiah 11:1,10
John the Baptist, detail, Byzantine Mosaic Artist, Hagia Sophia
Meditation Two (insight) tears
Almighty and eternal God, who drew out a fountain of living water in the desert for your people, as they well knew, draw from the hardness of our hearts tears of compunction, that we may be able to lament our sins, and may merit to receive you in your mercy.
-Latin, late 14th century quoted from The Oxford Book of Prayer
Meditation Three (integration) living water Our brokenness is the wound through which the full power of God can penetrate our being and transfigure us in God. Loneliness is not something from which we must flee but the place from where we can cry out to God, where God will find us and we can find God. Yes, through our wounds the power of God can penetrate us and become like rivers of living water to irrigate the arid earth within us. Thus we may irrigate the arid earth of others, so that hope and love are reborn.
- Jean Vanier, The Broken Body(1988,Paulist Press)
The Last Word
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
The Tree of Jesse, English Miniaturist, 1140's
John the Baptist can't possibly have imagined how, nearly two thousand years after his death, in a country across an ocean, in an incomprehensible technological culture, in a language not yet emerged in his time, a woman (no less!) sits at a computer (!) fingers resting on keys, contemplating his message – a message which has been fresh every year of this woman's life. And of the life of the - incomprehensible, again - church. If there is consciousness after death, if there is such thing as communication with other souls, I want to see John and thank him again and again for his recurring appearance in the desert of my soul. In the meantime, I thank him now. Thank you, Voice in the Wilderness, Dear Camel Coat Wearer, Locust and Honey Eater, Martyr on-Behalf-of-Truth.
He replies, Turn around, Wake up. Shake off your bad habits … again. The One is coming, who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Light your lamp. Sweep the house. Get ready. Get ready. The end is near. The beginning is nigh.
I'm never alone in the wilderness of my soul. John meets me there and guides me again and again into sacred time.