It is a little known fact that Dungeness is the only desert in the whole of western Europe. It is classified as a desert because it has almost no surface vegetation and very little rainfall. If you think of a desert or a wilderness you are probably not thinking about Dungeness right on the tip of Kent standing on the English Channel but it is a bleak place very remote and standing on the edge. Although it is now quite arty, it was a place where generations lived and died in poor conditions little troubled by the rest of the world.
The desert is an important part of the Christian story. Jesus found himself driven into the desert following his baptism tempted by the devil and testing what it meant for him to undertake his public ministry right at its beginning. The desert conditions were the place where Jesus found himself by facing the world at its most austere, with nowhere to hide. The physical pointed to the emotional struggle that Jesus faced, the landscape has a parallel in the challenges that Jesus comes up against as he is tempted to turn away from his mission by three temptations. The struggles that he faces in the desert will be the pain in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before the crucifixion as he prays about the cup being taken from him and whether he can turn from his mission.
Lent has always been seen as an echo of the desert experience that as Jesus struggles and prepares himself by facing up to who he is, so we face up to ourselves – the things we don’t like about ourselves and the ways that we can try to avoid going the way we should go. Lent is a wilderness time in order to make us more fully the people that calls us to be. For Jesus there was no distraction or hiding place to stop him focussing on what he was called to do. For us, unless we go away from our everyday lives, it is impossible to do that but what we can do is to take a fresh look at ourselves and our lives, preparing ourselves by praying more, reading more and reflecting more on God’s calling. Lent invites us to take time as we are so often unable to do in the rest of the year to get things more right by allowing ourselves time in the wilderness, so that when we emerge at Easter we find ourselves in a new and liberating place- the joy of Easter coming out of the austerity of Lent.
Every blessing on your Lenten journey that the wilderness real or metaphoric may be a place of growth and challenge on the road to resurrection and renewal.