Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 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.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. Why the wilderness? The phantasms of the self, so well camouflaged in the city, are exposed in the disorienting desert. You are left with yourself and your every weakness and vulnerability heightened in the extremes of the acute presence and/or the acute absence of God.
In Lent, Christians endeavor to create a little wilderness, at least as much as is practical. Here, the Spirit of Truth guides you into all truth. The demons of the self present themselves for confrontation (meditation one). You are drawn into an “unmitigated honesty”. And the humanity you find in yourself is one that brings you to compassion (meditation three). Enjoy a holy, truthful Lent! -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) inner demons
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth
Not everyone is called to face the particular trials of St Antony but each one of us has, sooner or later, to confront the terrible demons which we carry inside: the demons of aggression, resentment, pride, sadness, despair.
-Frere Ivan Desert and the City
If you therefore go to the desert to be rid of all the dreadful people and all the awful problems in your life, you will be wasting your time. You should go to the desert for a total confrontation with yourself. For one goes to the desert to see more and to see better. One goes to the desert especially to take a closer look at the things and people one would rather not see, to face situations one would rather avoid, to answer questions one would rather forget.
-Alessandro Pronzato Meditations on the Sand
Our greatest protection is self-knowledge, and to avoid the delusion that we are seeing ourselves when we are in reality looking at something else. This is what happens to those who do not scrutinize themselves. What they see is strength, beauty, reputation, political power, abundant wealth, pomp, self-importance, bodily stature,e a certain grace of form or the like, and they think that this is what they are.
Such persons make very poor guardians of themselves: because of their absorption in something else they overlook what is their own and leave it unguarded. How can a person protect what he does not know? The most secure protection for our treasure is to know ourselves: each one must know himself as he is, and distinguish himself from all that he is not, that he may not unconsciously be protecting something else instead of himself.
-Gregory of Nyssa 330-395 trans. Herbert Musurillo quoted from Ordinary Graces: Christian Teachings on the Interior Life
A truth is always the truth with reference to something. Truth is the radiant manifestation of reality. Not truth but reality is the object of love. To desire truth is to desire contact with a piece of reality. To desire contact with a piece of reality is to love. We desire truth only in order to love in truth. We desire to know the truth about what we love. Instead of talking about love of truth, it would be better to talk about the spirit of truth in love.
-Simone Weil 1909-1943 The Need for Roots
Most people's wilderness is inside them, not outside. Thinking of it as outside is generally a trick we play upon ourselves - a trick to hide from us what we really are, not comfortingly wicked, but incapable, for the time being, of establishing communion. Our wilderness, then, is an inner isolation. It's an absence of contact. It's a sense of being alone - boringly alone, or saddeningly alone, or terrifyingly alone. H.A. Williams 1919-2006 The True Wilderness
The truthfulness which Jesus demands from His followers is the self-abnegation which does not hide sin. Nothing is then hidden, everything is brought forth to the light of day. In this question of truthfulness, what matters first and last is that a man's whole condition should be exposed, his whole evil laid bare in the sight of God. But sinful men do not like this sort of truthfulness, and they resist it with all their might. That is why they persecute it and crucify it. It is only because we follow Jesus that we can be genuinely truthful, for then He reveals to us our sin upon the cross. The cross is God's truth about us, and therefore it is the only power which can make us truthful. When we know the cross we are no longer afraid of the truth.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945 The Cost of Discipleship
Therefore Jesus goes into the desert, therefore he fasts; therefore he leaves behind everything else that a man need even for bare existence, so that for this once not just in the depths of his heart but in the whole range of his being he can do and say what is the first and last duty of humankind – to find God, to seek God, to belong to God to the exclusion of everything else that makes up human life. And therefore his fasts. Therefore through this cruelly hard act, this denial of all comfort, this refusal of food and drink, through the solitude and abandonment of the desert, through everything else that involves a rejection, a self-denial of the world and all earthly company, through all these he proclaims this fact: one thing only is necessary, that I be with God, that I find God, and everything else, no matter how great or beautiful, is secondary and subordinate and must be sacrificed, if needs be, to this ultimate movement of heart and spirit.
-Karl Rahner 1904-1984 sermon for First Sunday in Lent (A) Quoted from The Great Church Year
detail, The Temptation, Miniaturist, Ormeshy Psaltar, 14th Century English
Meditation Two (insight) unmitigated honesty
Why am I drawn to desert and mountain fierceness? What impels me to its unmitigated honesty, its dreadful capacity to strip bare, its long, compelling silence? It’s the frail hope that in finding myself brought to the edge…I may hear a word whispered in its loneliness. The word is ‘love,’ spoken pointedly and undeniably to me. It may have been uttered many times in the past but I’m fully able to hear it only in that silence.
-Belden Lane The Solace of Fierce Landscapes
Meditation Three (integration) on the side of the weak
In this desert of solitary prayer, Jesus is tempted. If we look more closely at these three temptations of our Lord, we see that in all three the devil seized on the apparent discrepancy between what Jesus knew about himself and what he was so immediately experiecing. Jesus knew that he was the Son of God. On this the devil - however we are to conceive him - fastened. If you are the Son of God, he says, then you should not be hungry, you should not be unheeeded, you should not be powerless. …
... And what does Jesus do? He once again abandons, so to speak, his awareness of his divinity and takes his place on the side of the poor, the abandoned, and the weak.
-Karl Rahner 1904-1984 sermon for First Sunday in Lent (A) Quoted from The Great Church Year
The Last Word
If some temptation arises in the place where you dwell in the desert, do not leave that place in time of temptation. For if you leave it then, no matter where you go, you will find the same temptation waiting for you.
- Theophan the Recluse 1815-1894
The Truth About Suzanne?
Know Thyself - Delphic Oracle
A few years ago I undertook the first phase of culling six decades worth of journals and papers. Because I never read a notebook once it's finished, I have a walk-in closet full of raw observation from my entire life. After my mother's death a few years ago my brother sent some additional boxes of material - letters, homework, tightly folded notes to and from friends, newspaper clippings, theater programs - which had settled like sediment under the sea of papers in my mother's attic. I went to a retreat house with the bins of papers and diaries and spent some days uncovering the fossilized strata of my teenage life.
The memory of myself as a teenager was at odds with the girl I saw before me in these pieces of her life. Who is this kind, thoughtful, funny, creative girl with such a devotion to her friends? I discovered not a great student, but not the terrible one I remembered being. I never remember doing homework – only trying to get out of it. But here were piles of it and pretty impressive, some of it! Did I not know myself then? Do I appreciate this girl now only because of the unfolding events of the years between us? I recognize the ominous naivete - I wish I could say to her, “Watch out for this... or that....” But overall, the negative image I carried of myself belies the girl I found in the papers.
Know thyself, said the Delphic oracle. Not so easy, is it? Socrates himself complains to Phaedrus that he doesn't yet know himself. Ben Franklin said, “There are three Things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self."
It seems to me I'd have a better chance of understanding what it means to be a human being if I did know myself, the nearest human being at hand. When Jesus says “Love the Lord your God … and your neighbor as yourself” it seems obvious that if I am to love God, with all my heart, soul, and mind, and strength - I have to uncover those things preventing me from fully loving. To love my neighbor as myself requires that I somehow love myself. And know myself. How can that happen if I consistently veer off from reality as if I had bad tires? (Oooooh, this is why so many people love Lent. It's time to get the old jalopy aligned...)
Reading the artifacts of my teen life helped me discover that I can't fully know myself, and that may be a good thing (being in good company with Socrates and Ben Franklin). Knowing myself may mean unknowing myself, just as approaching God requires "unknowing" God, as the mystics say.
And I must "unknow" my neighbor. My neighbor may not fit into the convenient cubby-holes I've prepared for them. So be open, curious, kind. I now realize, they may not even be who they think they are.