Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'm Grateful for the Wilderness

In fairy tales, the wilderness is a frightening place where characters either run for refuge or are order to fulfill a mission, face a great challenge, meet someone instrumental, or learn an important skill. The wilderness is an instrument of change.

The same is true in scripture, both ancient and modern. Consider:

Our first parents were cast out of the Garden of Eden to a wilderness...the lone and dreary world. Without that step into the great unknown, the world would never have been populated. We would not exist. Adam said, "Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient." (Moses 5:10-11)

Moses led the children of Israel out of captivity...and spent the next forty years circling the promised land, in the wilderness. It was in the wilderness that they witnessed the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, built a golden calf for idol worship, and received the Ten Commandments.

Lehi was warned in a dream to leave behind his riches, his possessions and his remarkable real estate and journey into the wilderness with his family. The entire Book of Mormon begins with this crucial story of one family's journey into the wilderness.

Mormon pioneers were cast out of their homes and farmland and driven into the wilderness, crossing thousands of miles on the plains before arriving in the Salt Lake Valley.

John the baptist was raised in the wilderness. Living in the wild was somehow essential to his preparation as a baptist and an elias, one who ushers in.

Christ spent 40 days praying and fasting in the wilderness, and ultimately retired to the wilderness, the Garden of Gethsemane, to talk to God and atone for our sins.

This year our oldest son spent two months in the wilderness. It was a much-needed instrument of change. The beating down of the earth's elements seem to soften his heart in ways nothing else had succeeded.

At some point every one of us, just like fairy tale characters as well as prophets and patriarchs, will have to pass through a personal wilderness. Perhaps several, both literal and figurative. These wildernesses are frightening places, full of unknowns, full of danger...but often harboring wise leaders, helpful guides...and always effecting change.

This year my gratitude for the wilderness is profound. I am grateful for the progress our son made there, for the peace and reflection that comes to me when I escape there myself, and most especially for the wilderness Christ was willing to enter in our behalf. I am acutely aware of the fear that comes as we leave our personal comfort zones to embark on a journey. I am in awe of the peace that is offered, often in the very face of life-threatening danger. I am humbled to my knees at the wilderness Jesus bore for each of us. And I rejoice in the miracle and power of change.

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