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Desert Times

20 February 2024

By Jane Gardner, presiding evangelist

I will meditate on all your work and muse on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy.

Psalm 77:12–13a

Often during the season of Lent, the psalmist cries, “God, where are you?” It is a lament from one who cannot sense the divine presence. Did you know there are more laments in the book of Psalms than psalms of praise? For me, that makes the Bible relevant—it speaks to our living—because in times of trial and challenge, I am also asking, “God, why aren’t you here?”

Intellectually I know God is always present. I believe it. But, when faced with unbearable loss or depression or pain, it is so tempting to blame God’s absence for the difficulty. “If God would just show up, my troubles would melt away” does not represent a very mature understanding of God’s presence and generosity on my part.

Biblical laments generally include addressing God, expressing a complaint, making a request, and ending with affirmation. For example, Psalm 22 addresses God: “My God, my God,” followed by the complaints: “Why have you forsaken me?” and “Why are you so far from helping me?” [v.1]. In verse 19, the request is stated: “…do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!” Then, the psalmist moves to words of trust: “…he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him” [24] and “To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him” [29].

In my better moments I get it—the journey through complaining, requesting, and then affirming, is the blessing. But it’s helpful to know that I’m in good company with others who have felt deserted—especially during Lent. Do we have to wander in the desert with the children of Israel? Must we step into the desert with Jesus where temptation waits? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” This forty days of introspection, searching, and, sometimes, desolation, has the potential to be the most informative and stretching season within our discipleship and ministry.

This modern poem begins with lament and is written on my heart:

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

―Sarah Williams, Twilight Hours: A Legacy of Verse

These words and the pattern they represent have been my constant companion for years. During the Lenten season, they call me to an authentic struggle through the desert, with the assurance that my life’s journey, even the darkness, is accompanied by Divine Love. With every step in the desert I will repeat, “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

Prayer Phrase

“For he will be like a tree planted by water…” (Jeremiah 17:8).

Spiritual Practice

Deepening Roots

A tree with superficial roots will wither during drought, or severe storms may uproot it. A tree whose roots go deep is stable and draws from deep waters. Imagine yourself as a tree by a river or stream. Sense your roots extending deep into the Earth in search of God’s Spirit. Reflect or pray about what you hope to find as your spirit searches for deeper identity in God.

Today’s Prayer for Peace

Engage in a daily practice of praying for peace in our world. Click here to read today’s prayer and be part of this practice of peace.

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