The Lenten Desert: A Very Personal Journey

by Father David May

For some reason I am fascinated these days by time and what a given moment has to offer.

I am not thinking of time as something for which every moment must be accounted for, valid as that consideration might be. I am not thinking about wasting time versus making good use of it to get necessary tasks done—like writing this article for the March Restoration.

Rather, I am thinking of time as the means God uses to speak to us about himself; in other words, time is ripe for the revelation of what is eternal and not of time.

That might sound a bit philosophical and abstract, but as usual with this column, I am mired in the specifics of space and time, searching for God in the events of everyday, whether said day be ordinary or extraordinary.

These days we are thinking of Jesus going into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by Satan and to win the battle against his wiles for our salvation.

Lent means we also view this time as one in which we follow Our Lord into that desert, to overcome evil in ourselves, to be purified of sin, and, in whatever way we are called to do so, to fight evil in this world.

Paradoxically, the season of Lenten deserts coincides with that of the coming of spring, that season of the first awakening to newness of life, first flowers, green grass, and at least in this part of Canada, though lacking in flowers and shades of green, the “plunk, plink” of drops of maple sap running into buckets that will capture a future harvest of maple syrup, God willing.

Desert and springtime freshness, Christ and Satan, me and myself—the battle is on as we begin another Lenten journey.

What will these 40 days offer us this year? What battles will ensue? What graces will flow from Christ to his followers? What evil will be stirred up and seek to vanquish and disgrace us? Or to be vanquished by Christ living in us?

St. Luke tells us that before Christ went into the desert, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” something which occurred at his baptism. He thus set us an example (of our need for spiritual renewal before we try much of anything), and he was led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil.

When I read this, I think of the Desert Fathers who followed Christ’s example and went to do battle against Satan into the deserts of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. It was a work that went on for several centuries—the 3rd  to 7th centuries, roughly—and yielded tremendous spiritual fruit for the Church.

Compared to these heroes of the faith (well, many of them, not all, of course), even though I live in a poustinia (meaning, in Russian, “desert”), I feel more like a dessert father than a desert father. I have no interest in running off to fight Satan anywhere, let alone in some desiccated wilderness filled with wild animals and demons and God knows what else.

Yet I can see Christ up ahead of me (as usual) beckoning me to follow him into His desert, not the one of my imagining.

I tend to forget that the desert is His now, along with the woodlands, the mountains, the oceans, all planets, things visible and invisible, Central Park in New York City and Dafoe Road in rural Ontario.

Jesus knows what kind of desert I’m made for, and where I need to do battle, and for how long. So, his Spirit is nudging me from within to follow my Lord into the thick of the Lenten spring. I have no idea at the time of writing this, what that will entail, as it hasn’t happened yet!

So, I’m not worrying about details, as these will be revealed as they take place. What I do know is that every moment is preparation for the next moment, and all together, preparation for eternity. Every moment is a time for following Christ on the path marked out for each one of us, so that the reality of “eternal life” may be the fire which continually reshapes us and reforms us.

Each moment is a kind of meeting with Christ—however obscure at times—and a gazing at him as he leads us deeper into the mystery of who he is. How is that mystery playing itself out in my life of late?

Well, the Lord shows me almost daily a truth I have some reluctance to admit: I don’t want any of this! I would rather be left alone for a while and just have a few decades to veg out! Of course, that would probably be boring to the extreme, but it can seem worth giving it a go at times.

While I’m at it, I don’t like how Parkinson’s disease makes a person (me, for example) appear to age faster than is now considered normal. Inside I still have energy and zeal (at times), but outside I look increasingly like an old timer shuffling along. I’m not asking for a total cure, just having it be less visible!

And then there’s that blasted pandemic going on and on and on. Good fodder for news agencies and misery for everyone affected. Who doesn’t wish for an end to the whole affair?

And then there’s the rampant secularization of society advancing as rapidly as ever, and the Church, at least in the West, who listens to her?! Increasingly irrelevant to more people’s lives, at least that’s the story going around. What a grief that is! What a tragedy!

In all these areas (and probably many others), it is as if the Lord is looking me straight in the eyes and saying to me with great firmness and extraordinary peace, “Follow me into the desert, where I will see to your being purified in these and in other matters you’ve yet begun to fathom.

“In every area I, filled with the Spirit, have already won the victory. Let my desert purify away the deceit of defeat and show you what a real Springtime entails.”

Who can resist his voice, his authority, his merciful love to fathers and mothers, desert or dessert variety?

Thus, newly set on fire, we can bring Him to wherever he sends us. There, too, he has won the victory which he longs to bear witness to through his disciples, who seek his word in every moment of time till at last they behold him forever, face to face, in wondrous adoration.