Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'" Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. -Luke 4:1-13
Jesus went to the wilderness - a place of wild beasts and demons; of roaming, tormented spirits; the dangerous meeting place of God and frail human beings; the strange abode of ministering angels. Here the devil prowls like a roaring lion seeking souls to devour.
In Lent, Christians are called again to the soul's desert, but without John the Baptist for an advent guide. Rather, as John of the Cross wrote, we go forth with no other light or guide than the one burning in my heart.
The prompts for personal meditation this week speak to the soul's confrontation with temptation. Beware if the devil seems to retreat (meditation one). Take refuge with Christ and remember that the devil can't enter the house without our consent (meditation two). And how to avoid the devil's widespread and subtle traps? Humility (meditation three).
Have a holy and blessed Lent. -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) the devil's wrath
Remember brother, in abandoning the world and conquering vice you give the devil more reason to be enraged, and he will feel particular hatred and rancor against you. If it seems he has retreated, beware, for he is busy rearming and mustering stronger forces…. Because God does not allow the devil room for his attack against beginners, the demon’s wrath steals up a narrow path, but it rushes along a spacious road toward those who have conquered him at least once.
-Francisco de Osuna, 1492-1540 Third Spiritual Alphabet, 7th Treatise, Ch.2
And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. -Luke 4:13
The Temptation, Limbourg Brothers, before 1416
The temptations were intended to induce him to externalize his being, to turn his life into an expression of power, to dominate, to be “extraordinary”; and not, on the contrary, to hold out to the end, enduring whatever was to befall him, hiding his immediate personal divinity in the obscurity of his way of life, not imposing himself upon anyone, living cheerfully and peacefully among simple people, and not forcing God’s hand even his most extreme need.
When Christ rejected the temptations, he won back the essence of humanity. He let the powers of evil come right up to him. And at the decisive moment he shattered them with a simple No. He did not betray us for a crust of bread. To him our wretchedness was sacred. He did not hesitate for a moment. His victory was not a dazzling triumph, since no one knew of it. It took place in utter solitude. Nevertheless it made possible a new future for mankind—the turning of hearts to goodness, not of stones to bread.
Ladislaus Boros Source: In Time of Temptation translated by Simon and Erika Young
Even though Jesus renounced these assaults, confiding his entire trust in God, he lives in the company of evil for the rest of his life, along the frontier of evil, as Karl Barth puts it, subject to its constant offensive warfare. The Pharisees tempt him to prove his power. His mother tempts him to put his ties to her before his doing God's work. His disciples tempt him to despair of human frailty, with their sleepiness in the face of his vigil, their doubting in the face of his affirmation, and their denial and betrayal in the time of his suffering and death. Finally his own disgrace and death tempt him in his human person to despair of God's intention. Here again, as Barth puts it, the good will of God is for the moment indistinguishable from the evil will of humanity and the world and Satan. Jesus voluntarily enters into all these temptations and feels their full force. In each instance he turns his face toward God and willingly puts his fate in God's hands, even when, as at Gethsemane his own will seeks another direction.
Ann and Barry Ulanov, Primary Speech: A Psycology of Prayer, p. 69
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.
Meditation Two (insight) the door of our consent One day, speaking about conversion of the heart, the Abbot told this story to one of the brothers: Once there was a woman of ill repute in a city. She had many lovers. The governor approached her and said: "If you promise me you will behave properly, I will take you for my wife." She promised, he married her and took her to his own home.
The lovers who still wanted her, said; "That official has taken her, If we risk going into the palace, he’ll catch us and punish us. But we’ll get out of that. Let’s go round the back and whistle to her. She’ll hear it and come down, and then we’ll be all right."
But the woman, when she heard them whistling, blocked her ears, bolted the doors and hid herself in the innermost part of the house.
The old man explained the story. The woman of ill repute is our soul. Her lovers are our passions. The governor is Christ. The innermost part of the house is our heavenly dwelling place. The whistlers are the devils. But the soul can always find refuge with its Lord.
–Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Patrologia cursus Completus, PG65
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 1567-1622
Meditation Three (integation) humility
I saw all the devil's traps set upon the earth, and I groaned and said, “Who do you think can pass through them?” And I heard a voice saying, “Humility.”
-Anthony the Great c.251-356
Pale sunlight, pale the wall.
Love moves away, the light changes.
I need more grace than I thought. -Rumi 1207-1273
The Last Word If leaf trash chokes the stream-bed, reach for rock-bottom as you rake the muck out. - Marie Ponsot b. 1921 Springing: New and Select Poems
Welcome dear feast of Lent, says George Herbert.
I can't count how many people have said to me over the years, “ I just LOVE Lent!” But Lent, in the Northern Hemisphere is when you're running out of the winter stores and the greens have not yet sprouted in the earth and you're half starved. It's a fast imposed by the land and climate made holy by practice.
When Bill and I lived on the farm with the Community of the Holy Spirit*, we grew and preserved most of our food. Every spring, all of us (the sisters, guests, interns, resident companions) wondered aloud what our own stores would be like if we didn't use freezers (which use energy). Trying to live close to the land and reflecting on food this way opens to us the fragility of life and the abundance we take for granted. I mean, we could just go to the A&P and pick up all sorts of wonderful foods at any time of year if we wanted to. But we rarely did. And there was lots of frozen kale in that freezer – which is just as awful as you are imagining it right now.
But just thinking of the A&P reminds me of the larger majority of people in the world for whom an American grocery store is like a decadent dream. Fasting widens the boundaries of compassion, stretches the heart, makes room for love. Lent is meant to expand our capacity to love.
On her speaking tours in the United States, Mother Teresa was always quick to point out that the obscene abundance of the West fostered malnourished souls. Maybe so many folks love Lent because it's time to set aside other things in order to tend the starving soul, malnourished by abundance.