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  • Writer's picturegailphilip4

The wilderness experience

Those of a certain age will recall a popular kids’ song: Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, birds in the wilderness...

I guess the implication is that you are in a pretty sad helpless hopeless state if you are a bird in the wilderness.

But wilderness can be either a tough place to be OR a great place to be. You might be lost in the wilderness - which is tough, or you might be paying a lot of money for a “wilderness experience” in a remote national park. For one person the wilderness is a fearful lonely place. For another it is an ideal state where nature rules and human interference is absent.

We read in scripture that the Israelites after they escaped the clutches of Pharoah wandered for 40 years in the wilderness or desert. This was a tough time when food and water could be in short supply, and there was much discontent. The Jewish festival of SUKKOT (Booths/Tabernacles) is an annual remembrance of how Jewish forefathers slept rough in the wilderness.

Yet this was the place where God was revealed on the mountain to Moses, God’s people received the 10 Commandments, God provided for his people. This was the place and time which the Jews could look back on as the occasion for preparation and spiritual awakening, a time when they were held in God’s powerful hand.

Similarly, when Jesus spent 40 Days in the Wilderness after his baptism and before beginning his ministry, this period was gruelling and harsh, but a time of preparation and victory over temptation.

So the wilderness is both a real physical thing as well as a spiritual experience. It captures the idea that God is both in the real world and in our hearts and minds. In the lock-down, we might very well feel that we are like “birds in the wilderness”: without support, in a miserable state, going nowhere. Maybe, though, in that wilderness experience where some social and personal supports are removed, we begin to sense who we truly are before God. We begin to understand what vulnerability means. We begin to grasp what “being saved” could mean.

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