By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
February 26th, 2023
Lectio Divina – Divine or Sacred Reading-(Download)
Opening Prayer – Prayer of Awareness
At the beginning of the day we seek your countenance among us, O God,
in the countless forms of creation all around us, in the sun’s rising glory, in the face of friend and stranger.
Your Presence within every presence, your Light within all light, your Heart at the heart of this moment.
May the fresh light of morning wash our sight that we may see your Life in every life this day.
- John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 42.
Part II - “Deliverance Stories” (cont’d)
[“Inspired – Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans.]
When God broke open the firmament and unleashed torrents of water to flood the whole earth,
Noah and his family took refuge in an ark. It rained for forty days and forty nights before they were delivered.
After Moses liberated the Hebrew slaves and Pharaoh’s army drowned in the sea, the freed people complained and disobeyed. They wandered the desert for forty years before God led them to the promised land, and at last they were delivered . . . again.
When the carpenter’s son from Nazareth had been baptized, and Galilee buzzed with rumors of a Messiah, Jesus went out into the wilderness, where Satan tempted him with the enticements the Son of God would face in the course of his mission: security, fame, and power. Like Moses and Elijah, Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights before he was delivered.
But before the baptism and temptations, before God became flesh and lived among us, an angel told Mary she was pregnant. Mary carried God in her womb for around forty weeks before, as Luke reports, “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (2:6 KJV).
The number forty carries special significance in Scripture, particularly in its deliverance stories. Rather than an exact enumeration of time, forty symbolizes a prolonged period of hardship, waiting, and wandering – a liminal space between the start of something and its fruition that often brings God’s people into the wilderness, into the wild unknown.
The wilderness, as both a geographic region and a literary motif, appears in so many of the Bible’s stories and poems, it functions a bit like a recurring musical theme – like the swelling strings from “Lawrence of Arabia.” Some biblical characters, like Hagar and Jacob, fled to the wilderness to escape troubled relationships or oppression; others, like the people of Israel, were banished there as part of God’s discipline for sin. The prophet Elijah hid in the wilderness to escape political persecution for his public ministry. Yes, even God, when clothed with vulnerability of a human body, spent time in the wild.
In the Bible, the wilderness is a place of danger and desolation, creeping with wild animals and threatening with rugged, parched terrain. In life, it’s that long journey through grief, those years between calls with your grown kid, a season of caregiving that stretches your reservoirs of patience and perseverance, the aftermath of the divorce, the season of doubt, the period in between jobs or in between relationships or in between diagnosis and healing. In the wilderness, God can seem very far away, or absent altogether. It may take weeks, months, or even years to get on track again. In the meantime, every well, every drop of manna, every raven bearing bread in its beak, is salvation.
As Walter Brueggemann, renowned theologian and Old Testament scholar said, “Like manna, [God’s] wilderness presence is always enough on which to survive, but not too much. Like manna, he can be graciously received but not stored or presumed upon. Like manna, it is given out of fidelity but never fully seen and controlled.”
The wilderness, by design, disorients. As any wilderness trekker past or present will tell you, the wilderness has a way of forcing the point, of bringing to the surface whatever fears, questions, and struggles hide within. Nothing strips you down to your essential humanity and inherent dependency quite like submitting to the elements, surrendering to the wild. In the wilderness, you find out what you are made of and who your friends are. You are forced to leave behind all nonessentials, to quiet yourself and listen.
“In our culture of constant access and nonstop media nothing feels more like a curse from God than time in the wilderness,” wrote pastor Jonathan Martin in his book “Prototype.” “Our society tells us that if and when we get ‘there’ – the job or position or degree we’ve always wanted – that’s when all the important stuff will start happening. Not so. All the good stuff happens in obscurity.”
Indeed, some of Scripture’s most momentous events occur not at the start of a journey, not at the destination, but in between, in the wilderness. Jacob wrestles with the mysterious stranger. Moses encounters the burning bush. The Israelites receive the Law that will shape them for millennia to come. It is in the wilderness that John the Baptist, complete with locusts in his beard and honey on his lips, baptizes repentant sinners and prepares the world for Jesus, channeling the prophet Isaiah by declaring, “A voice . . . [is] calling in the wilderness. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Matthew 3:3).
The people of God would do well to listen to those who have sojourned in the outskirts.
It’s worth noting that at the culmination of nearly every wilderness journey is a naming. After receiving a new name of his own, Jacob, now called Israel, names the place where he wrestled with God “Peniel,” which means “face of God.” Hagar names the well of her salvation “Beer Lahai Roi, “I have seen the God who sees me.” So, when we join with our spiritual ancestors in telling our stories of deliverance, we must remember to name each wilderness, to mark those spots where, when all hope seemed lost, we encountered God – at a desert well on the road to Egypt [or] on a bridge in Selma, Alabama.
God makes a way when there seems to be no way. It’s the steady refrain of our narrative heritage.
What verses will your story add to it? What wells will your journey name?
For this week with the “ear of your heart”: Read Matthew 4:1-11 and practice Lectio Divina.
“Thought for Extending the Practice”: Jesus is tested in a struggle between God and the powers of evil.
Because God is with him, Jesus conquers. Jesus chooses service of God to service of self. Pay attention to the three great temptations: security, fame, and power. These temptations affect everyone. Which temptations affect me and what do I do about them?
Source for “Thought for Extending the Practice”: “The CEB Lectio Divina Prayer Bible”
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Closing Prayer – Prayer of Blessing
Peace where there is war, healing where there is hurt, memory where we have forgotten the other.
Vision where there is violence, light where there is madness, sight where we have blinded each other.
Comfort where there is sorrow, tears where there is hardness, laughter where we have missed life’s joy, laughter when we remember the joy.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul. May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 44.
“Inspired”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2023.