I have been living in empty space at my new house and a box-filled space at the other: contrasting experiences in these days of significant personal and professional transition. These days I’m neither a Montrealer nor a Cowansvillian (is that even a word?) as I have a foot in two very distinctive worlds of city and country. What I’m noticing these days are the sounds that are different in the empty space - echoes reverberating through the rooms - and the way shadow and light dance on the walls in rooms with no curtains on the windows.
In the story of the temptation of Jesus (read Matthew 4: 1-11, Mark 1: 1-12, Luke 4: 1-13) Jesus lived for 40 days in a very different space: a desert.
No human traffic.
Broad, wide space, uncurtained, sand for a bed and a rock for a pillow.
In that ‘emptiness’ he hears different sounds, one of which would be the Voice of the One who said at his baptism: this is my beloved Son. He is listening in silence and stillness for a word that will root him in a sustaining courage for the three year journey and ministry that lie ahead.
The tempter tries to unsettle Jesus, to distract him from God’s presence and call. As Jesus fasts and prays, the first temptation is to fill his stomach by turning rocks into bread and use God’s gift and power for his personal needs. He refuses and instead speaks of a bread for the soul that will deeply satisfy the spirit. He resists the temptation to fill his empty stomach and lets his spirit be the boss over his physical hunger.
On this Lenten journey we are invited to live with emptiness and feel hunger, that starts with hunger of stomach and moves deeper to hunger of our spirits.
I do not want to feel hunger and do all that I can to avoid it: nuts in the glove compartment, snacks easily accessible, fruit bowl filled. How can one go without food? Of course, if you never feel hunger you miss the incredible joy of a freshly cooked meal or garden herbs whose taste is amplified by your need.
When you know hunger your taste buds appreciate the meal so much more.
I resist emptiness and would easily go back to the sure and familiar place where I lived for 23 years. Everything had its place, it accommodated my needs. Yet as I listen, and live into the transition, I know that God is leading us to new places of learning and wonder. I know that God gives all of us strength, focus and courage.
In these times of instant gratification, of over-consumption and consumerism, the Lenten journey cries out: stop, feel your hunger, listen to your spirit and inner needs. Live in places of emptiness with trust that God is with you.
A blessed Lent.
A Lenten Hymn:
Jesus tempted in the desert,
lonely, hungry, filled with dread:
“Use your power,” the tempter tells him;
“turn these barren rocks to bread!”
“Not alone by bread,” he answers,
“can the human heart be filled.
Only by the Word that calls us
is our deepest hunger stilled!”
(Herman Stuempfle, 1990, VU 115, tune of Beach Spring)