The unvarnished desert
Recently a dear friend e-mailed, “It really ticks me off that I have to share this news with people I love.” Her cancer has returned.
There are many ways to enter the deserts of life. Most of them are involuntary.
The longed-for play date is canceled without explanation, leaving a lonely child in despair. The wife sticks a note by the empty closet: I am gone. An abusive father dies, leaving us to resolve our wounds alone.
None of us ask for grievous inner dislocation.
This makes the 40 days of Jesus a lot like happening upon a hawk’s tail feather on your morning walk — at once jolting and revelatory. How is it possible to allow ourselves to enter the terrifying unknown, the unvarnished desert?
Our rearview mirror on this piece of the Jesus narrative is a mixed blessing, because it is too easy to regard his experience as a kind of peak career planning moment — a model of clarification, discernment, and momentum. But one of the most powerful images I have ever seen of this time is a painting by Briton Rivière, an early 20th-century British painter whose Biblical scenes defy the triumphalism of most artists’ renderings…