In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." -Mark 1:9-15
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. -vs.12-13
This is the way I have to read the Gospel of Mark. Word by word, some in italics, some in bold. If I were writing by hand I would not only color-code the words, I would draw some words small and spidery, and others gigantic, or, (how would I do this ? ) three-dimensional in order to leave room inside the letters for the Biblical references behind them.
The word wilderness, for example, contains every other wilderness from the book of Genesis on, emphasis on the wilderness in Exodus, but linking to Elijah, and the prophets and the Psalms and Wisdom and then John the Baptist a few verses earlier. Mark is positively Wagnarian in his leitmotifs, which is why, though the text moves quickly, you have to read it slowly, word by word, because all the words count.
But my job is not exegesis, nor interpretation, and I'm not a Biblical scholar. My job is to offer you a retreat based on Sunday's Gospel text, to help you enjoy the week's lesson at a pace and depth and personal engagement you might not have prepared without the retreat.
Mark doesn't guess the content of Jesus' own temptation. It is unique and personal to Jesus. The Spirit drove him into the wilderness, the wilderness being the place of encounter with God, with demons, and above all, with self. And, of course, wild beasts.
You have to supply your own bestiary. Because ultimately temptations come from within yourself and are uniquely YOUR own.
To that end, I am posting the wonderful demons that plague St. Anthony in the desert from the imagination of Hieronymus Bosch, Lucas van Leyden, and Bernardino Paranzano. Do any of these demons or beasts seem delightfully familiar to you?
Maybe you'd like to try to draw your own. And name them. It's fun to name your demons It helps you to laugh at them, and you know, evil hates laughter. And, at the very least, laughing at yourself is a kind of holy medicine.
Francis de Sales (1567-1622) says,
Let the enemy rage at the gate, let him knock, let him push, let him cry, let him howl, let him do worse; we know for certain that he cannot enter save by the door of our consent. - Francis de Sales
Francis doesn't account for the sneakiness of our egos, weaknesses, character defects, blindnesses, chosen ignorances. They not only slither under the door but have well established and charmingly appointed dwellings within my own heart. As for new temptations, I leave the door wide open! Unlike Jesus, I am tempted but I DO sin. But temptation, and failure in the face of it, teaches me about myself and, oddly, makes me stronger and certainly more compassionate. The following self-guided retreat and miscellany quotes - all from spiritual masters - offer prompts for thinking about temptation. Have fun.
Tempted as ever, but trying, -Suzanne
detail, The Temptation of St. Anthony, Bosch
It is a mark of the evil spirit to take on the appearance of an angel of light. He begins by whispering thoughts that are suited to a devout soul, and ends by suggesting his own.
detail, Tempt. of Anthony, Parenzano, c.1494
Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. -1 Peter 5:8-10
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness Is like a villian with a smiling cheek, A goodly apple rotten at the heart: O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!
-William Shakespeare 1564?-1616 The Merchant of Venice
I am a great enemy to flies; quia sunt imagines diaboli et haereticorum. When I have a good book, they flock upon it and parade up and down upon it, and soil it. 'Tis just the same with the devil. When our hearts are purest, he comes and soils them.
-Martin Luther 1483-1546 Table Talk
Captain Ahab, demonlike, projects his hatred of God on the white whale.
Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in there statute devil;--Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred White Whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, are visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whales's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it. (128)
-Herman Melville Moby Dick
detail, The Temptation of St. Anthony, Bernardino Parenzano, c.1494
On the Christian level, suffering is linked to the transition from one state to another, from the old to the new man, with its various ordeals. To appreciate their nature, one has only to go back to the Desert Fathers and to the ordeals which they suffered from diabolical powers. Hence the name 'temptations' applied to these phenomena, the most celebrated , and the most grotesque, being those endured by St. Anthony. Christianity identified the powers of evil with the devils tormenting the individual as he passed from a profane state to one of sanctity, not through personal choice but by election.
The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant trans. John Buchanan-Brown “initiation”
defeating evil with love
There is no greater victory of evil than the reaction of guilt and despair which it arouses in those who have committed a sin, or of fear, anger and hate in those who have been wronged. Conversely, there is no greater victory over evil than to refuse to give in to these feelings, to refuse to act on them, to harbour them or justify them. We defeat evil - in ourselves, in others or in the world - when we refuse to react to it with more evil, but respond to it with repentance, forgiveness and love.
-Irma Zaleski The Way of Repentance
'If God made everything, did He make the Devil?' This is the kind of embarrassing question which any child can ask before breakfast, and for which no neat and handy formula is provided in the Parents' Manual … Later in life, however, the problem of time and the problem of evil become desperately urgent, and it is useless to tell us to run away and play and that we shall understand when we are older. The world has grown hoary, and the questions are still unanswered.
― Dorothy L. Sayers 1893-1957 The Mind of the Maker
The Temptation of St. Anthony, Lucas van Leyden, c.1530
Are Van Leyden's demons cute or what?
Meditation One (Introit) Tempted
And so we are tempted of Satan, tempted to give up, to despair.Tempted to cynicism. Tempted sometimes to cruelty. Tempted not to help others when we know we can, because, we think, what's the use. Tempted to banish from our life all that we really hold most dear, and that is love, tempted to lock ourselves up, so that when we pass by people feel, 'There goes a dead man.' And behind each and all of these temptations is the temptation to disbelieve in what we are, the temptation to distrust ourselves, to deny that is is the Spirit himself which beareth witness with our spirit. God in us.
-Harry Williams 1919-2006 True Wilderness quoted from Celebrating the Seasons (Morehouse)
Medtation Two (Insight) Overcoming
Why was he tempted? Because in him you were being tempted. Christ took his flesh from you and in return gave you the salvation that resides in him; he took your death for himself and gave you his life; he took the shame you deserved and gave you the honor that was his. Consequently, he took your temptation and gave you his victory. If we are tempted in him, we also overcome the devil in him.
-Augustine 354-430 Ennarrationes in Psalmos 60, 3(CCL 39:766) quoted from The Liturgical Year: Lent and Holy Week, Adrian Nocent OSB
Meditation Three (Integration) Get Moving And Doing
When I am assailed with heavy tribulations, I rush out among my pigs rather than remain alone by myself. The human heart is like a millstone in a mill: when you put wheat under it, it turns and grinds and bruises the wheat to flour: if you put no wheat, it still grinds on, but then 'tis itself it grinds and wears away. So the human heart, unless it be occupied with some employment, leaves space for the devil, who wriggles himself in and brings with him a whole host or evil thoughts, temptations, and tribulations, which grind out the heart.
-Martin Luther 1483-1546 Table Talk
The Last Word
We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way. Many who may seem to us to be children of the Devil will still become Christ’s disciples.
- Francis of Assisi 1181/1182-1226
detil, The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch, c.1500-1525
This Bosch demon could definately be one of mine.
Whore of the Mundane
It's a good thing that in meditation it's important to gently bring yourself back to the Beloved “without judgment or recrimination.” For one as passionate as I think I am, the humbling fact that the time I set aside solely for Divine Love fills up with mundane trivialities, makes me laugh at myself day after day. I usually end meditation with another cluster of laughs, saying aloud, “I REALLY DO love You, ya' know!”
So goes my daily dose of desert.
After escaping from Egypt and before entering the land of their ancestors, the people of Israel sojourned in the desert for forty years. Here, once again, they became God's people. Centuries later, Israel looked back at that time poetically as a honeymoon:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. … And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me 'My husband.' ...And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord. -Hosea2:14, 15b-16a, 19-20
In meditation I'm like Hosea's prostitute wife, Gomer. From time to time it's interesting to watch the sort of thoughts I try to let go of. All of them trivial, silly, non-sequiturs. Not even a profound idea here or a poetic phrase there that I'd want to cling to. Not a thought over Yemen or Somalia or starvation or rape in the Congo or even of friends in distress. I'm a whore of the mundane. Of what I forgot at the drug store. Of the phone call I forgot to put on my “to do” list. Nevertheless, may God reckon my distractions to me as righteousness! May God transfigure my inanities!
It's comforting to read the book of Exodus. The forty years in the wilderness was anything but a honeymoon. But I know from decades of serious praying that the experience of Presence is often perceived in retrospect and not in the moment. Perhaps, someday, I'll look upon this Lent as a turning point; an intimate dedication to “the one thing necessary.” In the meantime, I'll keep praying, meditating, and probably laughing.
Here's the quote that inspired this meditation.
Therefore Jesus goes into the desert, therefore he fasts; therefore he leaves behind everything else that a man needs even for bare existence, so that for this once not just in the depths of his heart bu 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 see God, to belong to God to the exclusion of everything else that makes up human life. And therefore he 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 The Great Church Year
The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronimus Bosch, between 1500-1525