A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
And so, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness,
preaching a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins.
I’ve heard stories of people who go to the Grand Canyon Skywalk and take a few selfies on their cell phones while standing at the edge…then get back in their cars and drive back to Las Vegas. Their visit lasts 5 or 10 minutes.
The beauty seems lost on them. They lack a sense of awe. They see, but fail to experience the scale, the grandeur and the sense of God’s hand working patiently, lovingly over the 6 million years that it took to craft the canyon. Nor do they notice the subtlety of the area. The delicate flowers that bloom and grow. The magnificence leaves no mark on their soul.
I’ve seen accounts of others who have hiked and run the Grand Canyon from rim to rim…about 40 kilometres. To prepare for the run they simplify their equipment to a minimum… water, maps, fruit, granola bars, headlamp, small camera and a jacket for the cool start or end of day.
They talk about the fresh mornings, the heat of mid-day, the sweet taste of water, the abundance of wildlife, the birdsong, and their continuous sense of awe during the 12 to 15 hours it takes. They describe the changing palate of colours as the sun arcs across the sky and casts shadows painting the canyon walls and floor.
They reflect on the sense of isolation and their own vulnerability combined with a feeling reverence and well-being as they immerse themselves in the experience, physically and spiritually, and it leaves an imprint on them that lasts a lifetime.
Isaiah had prophesised that the good news of the Messiah’s arrival would be announced by a voice of one calling in the wilderness. Mark’s gospel begins, with John the Baptist, calling out of the wilderness.
The wilderness reference recalls the time of Exodus when God brought the people out of exile and Egyptian slavery…and in the Sinai wilderness they entered into a covenant with God.
The wilderness was a place of freedom from oppression but most significantly, a place to encounter God and his love. We know that Jesus, himself, went into the wilderness for 40 days following his baptism.
The wilderness is a place of natural beauty where God lavishes sunlight on the hills, flowers and wildlife.
To some it is defined by emptiness but to others it is a place where God speaks in a soft, loving voice to people who go there to find him in the stillness. It is a place where humans can adapt their lives and orient themselves to God.
In this season of Advent the church invites us to find a still spot in our lives where we can experience the peace of God in the wonder of his creation, where we can invite the love of God to prepare us for our personal encounter with Christ.
It might be in the dark peace of December mornings where we can be attentive to the Spirit of God…whom we received at Baptism …and who reminds us that each of us is called to do some part of his work to build up the Kingdom of God by loving him and one another.
It might be a pause at the end of the day when we can be grateful for the love of God all around us.
These Covid shut-down days have elements of wilderness. For some, they are times of isolation and emptiness…and of quiet and reflection.
For parents working from home, on the other hand, the days are strange and busier in many ways, with zoom calls, children, and work that needs to be done …while at the same time looking forward to Christmas without a pageant or large family gatherings.
It can also be a time to renew our baptism of repentance and to rededicate ourselves to restoring the kingdom of God here on earth.
We can adapt to this wilderness time with deep reflection.
During Advent, St. Aidan’s is turning its eye to God’s gift to us of our natural world and to consider and do something about reducing our carbon footprint… our personal uses of energy that contribute to climate change.
According to different estimates global emissions of carbon dioxide fell almost 9 percent because of the covid shutdowns. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-18922-7 and https://sioweb.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/wp-content/plugins/sio-bluemoon/graphs/mlo_six_months.png Unfortunately, the long term annual growth has been unremitting with the wealthiest countries…including Canada contributing more, proportionately, than poorer ones.
And while aviation, industrial, and transportation contributions to carbon dioxide fell, household contributions increased.
This Advent, then, in addition to personal spiritual preparation we are invited to look at personal energy uses and to consider ways that we can reduce our household use of carbon-based energy to help preserve this planet.
Our spirituality needs to merge with daily life. It is in our households…in the meals we make, the laundry we do, the trips we take, the way we shop and the goods we buy that create carbon dioxide.
Like the hikers and runners who go into the Grand Canyon to run from rim to rim…an Advent exercise is to strip ourselves of the excesses we carry, to focus on what is most essential for our lives and to prepare the way of the Lord.
The words of Isaiah call us to make straight the way of the Lord. We might paraphrase this to “simplify our lives” Or perhaps it is to “become more God-sensitive”. (There are many interpretations of this phrase.)
There is no one prescription. Our personal circumstances and basic needs differ. In my own life, I’ve decided to watch less television to read more and to be more conscious of the energy demands of the food I eat specifically, to eat a lot less beef.
This relationship to God can be found in the quiet and isolation of these covid days too. The desert was a place where the Israelites, John the Baptist, and Jesus deepened their relation to God.
I want to end with part of a prayer by Teilhard de Chardin from his book Hymn of the Universe… Chardin was a Jesuit priest and a paleontologist doing an archeological dig in the Ordos desert of China and he had neither bread nor wine for a Eucharist so he prayed….
“I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real, itself; I will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.
“Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.
Chardin “found” a beautiful reflection in the wilderness. It is a prayer we can each make of our daily lives finding God in the simplicity of our setting.
Peace be with you.