Original Artwork by William Nelson
At that time Jesus was lead by the Spirit into the desert
To be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
And afterwards he was hungry.
Then the devil left him and, behold,
Angels came and ministered to him.
As we attempt, in this Lenten Season, to discern specific spiritual practices for ourselves—a kind of personal rule of life—we, like Jesus in the desert, will encounter temptations, habits, or dispositions that turn us away from our return to the Lord, away from our unique way of being. We should not allow this to discourage our pursuit, for God desires to meet us where we are, in our humanness and in our need. We are asked to be patient with ourselves, so that we may deepen our restfulness, rather than falsely pursue self-made images of perfection. And we resist the temptation to beat ourselves up over what we fail to do, for when we fail to pray, or forget our gratitude.
Rather than self-reproach, we might find opportunity to rest in God, and let the imperfect person that we hold ourselves to be, receive God’s affirming love. Our goal in writing a personal rule of life is to adequately describe our ordinary spiritual aspirations, and not merely create one more model of perfection that will never be peering back in the mirror.
Before Jesus entered the desert, he too pursued this experience of Love, through baptism. You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:11). During this First Week of Lent our focus and reflection will be on God’s unique and free love for us. The Fundamental Principles acknowledge this truth,
“In calling you God too was completely free.”
The experience of God’s love and mercy is foundational and extremely practical for our prayer life. For without a felt knowledge of this love, we are most vulnerable to the harshness of our own perfectionism and the expectations of the world around us.
The Ash Wednesday exercise asked me to remember an experience wherein I sensed that I was living out my central wish for my life. A moment or moments that “felt right.” I was asked to recall and describe this experience of flow and fullness and what I recognized in it as being an expression of my unique life call and life direction.
This week, can I remember once more this event (or events) and see it as the very concrete manifestation of God’s love that Jesus experienced in the Jordan; the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove (Luke 3:22)? The memory of this concrete experience, of my fullness, is grounding me in history, in my personal and still unfolding history as a child of God. As I discern what spiritual practices to integrate into my life, the memory of God’s affirmation—You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased—shall free me into honest self-appraisal and hope.
Revisit one or all of the gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). And with the memory of your “central wish” experience, enter the gospel scene at the Jordan. Use your imagination to enter the experience, to sense the world around you. What do you smell? What does the water feel like? Be patient and allow your imagination to create the sensual experience. Who do you see? As you come to some sense of comfort in the water, take the perspective of Jesus and ask John to baptize you. Allow yourself to be in the moment, to feel the sensation of being submerged in water. And as you come up, imagine the voice from the heavens: “You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Hear the words. Allow them to be delivered concretely, through your breathing, your warmth, through every cell of your body. Hear the words penetrate the memory of your “central wish” experience; that moment you were must fulfilled, most loved. You are loved as you are.
Be patient with this imaginative prayer. Once you’ve reached an end, take a few moments to write down and reflect on the experience, and the connection between Jesus’ baptism and your memory of fullness.