Deacon-structing the COVID Spring, Part 4: The Desert

Deacon Pedro

July 6, 2020
Photo by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash
It is now day 115, maybe, since things began shutting down and restrictions were put in place, but now, slowly, in many places – and certainly where I am in Canada, things seem to be returning to normal – if we can call it “normal”. I explained 3 weeks ago that I like to refer to this time as the “COVID Spring”. Spring has so many positive connotations: new life, new beginnings, and rebirth. Spring also always comes after winter: The grain of wheat has to die in order to bear fruit. Spring is a sign of hope.
These last months of COVID Spring have taught us many things about solitude and contemplation, about trust and grace, about listening and being with. Two weeks ago, we learned a bit about how God always makes things new, and last week, we contemplated the idea that all creation praises God, yes, even viruses.
One of the first COVID Spring lessons happened before it was spring – it was Lent. This was a time when Scripture passages like “Wash yourselves clean!” (Isaiah 1:16) kept popping up.
Here are a few other Scripture passages that we hear every year during Lent, but this year, it was hard not to apply them to the situation we were living:
“If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.” (1 Peter 2:20)
“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” (Psalm 23)
“And this is the will of him who sent me; that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:39)
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit He saves. Many are the troubles of the just, but out of them all the Lord delivers them.” (Psalm 34)
Also from Psalm 34: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”
I don’t think any scholars would conclude that these Scripture passages have any particular connection to the desert experience, but I can’t help but think of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert when I read them (See Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1–13 and Mark 1:12-13).
The desert is a place where we may suffer and where we need to have patience. The desert is a place that looks a lot like a dark valley. The desert is a place that has many dangers, and people can die there. The desert is a place where you may feel broken-hearted or crushed. It is a place where your troubles may seem insurmountable.
I can imagine Jesus going through all these emotions while in the desert.
Our COVID Spring has been like a desert experience: It has been a time for extra silence, a time for extra solitude, a time for less busy-ness, a time for trust in the midst of uncertainty. It has been a time for fasting from the things that get in the way of our relationship with God.
This is why monastics and ascetics have been practicing the art of silence since the time of the early Church.
St. Benedict in his Rule writes: “There are times when even good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence” (from Chapter 6: Restraint of Speech).
Silence is good and must be esteemed because it is in silence that God best speaks to us. I don’t know why, but if Elijah has anything to teach us, God is not found in the earthquakes, the fires, or the thunderstorms of life; God is found in the still-whispering wind. God is found in the silence.
But I think that even though we could argue that God is found anywhere and everywhere (He most certainly can be found in the earthquakes, fires, and thunderstorms of life), it is hard for us to listen to him. It is in silence that we are best disposed to listen to God.
And if we can learn anything from Jesus’ desert experience, the desert is also a place for temptation.
Maybe the COVID Spring was a time of temptation for you. Maybe you were tempted to waste away the extra time and to fill the silence with the meaningless noise of social media and other online distractions. I know for many being at home with family members was not an easy situation and may have brought to light difficulties that were easy to ignore before. That’s something else that happens in the desert: what was hidden comes into the light because, just as with our relationship with God, all distractions are gone. I pray that the desert experience helped you resolve some of these issues that you may have preferred to avoid. I pray that other issues which no one should ever have to deal with can also find healing during this time of desert.
The desert teaches us that "man does not live from bread alone, but from every Word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4). So many of us learned that as we were deprived of the Eucharist. It also teaches us that we should not put the Lord, our God, to the test (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). How many of us were tempted to test God during this time? The desert also teaches us that we should worship God alone (Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8). All of these are especially hard when we are in the desert because in the desert we are in crisis.
Finally, the desert teaches us that God sends us his angels to care for us (Matthew 4:11; Mark 1:13). The desert is a time where we learn to trust. We have to depend on others, and we have to depend on God.
This Lent was definitely a Lent to remember.
Every year I struggle to figure out what to give up and usually end up with some dumb thing like desserts or alcohol. This year it was decided for me: drive less, work less, be distracted less, spend more time at home, and spend more time with myself and my own thoughts.
Those are perfect things to do for Lent because that’s the whole point of Lent.
"In the [desert], prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain." (Isaiah 40:3-4)
We go into the desert, to get rid of the things that get in the way and that block our view, so we can see straight, so we can prepare the way of the Lord.
This COVID Spring has taught us that we don’t have to wait for Lent to go into the desert. We don’t have to wait for Lent to make space for silence. When this is all over, let’s not go back to the noise and the busy-ness. Let’s continue preparing a way for the Lord.
Come back next week for some final Faith lessons about trust and hope that we are learning during this COVID Spring. And remember to write and tell me what lessons you have been learning during this time.

pedro
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org