Imagine you are stranded alone in a desert with nothing but sand stretching for hundreds of miles. Would you choose to trust God or would fear get the upper hand?
Deserts are both beautiful and frightening. They reveal our need for an ever-deepening dependence on God. It is fascinating to think what our response would be if everything comfortable and secure was suddenly stripped away.
We avoid this line of thinking most of the time. But meditating on our vulnerability is good. Our physical life is dust and to dust it shall return. We are called to a deeper life of the Spirit which will never pass away.
The truth is we can find and experience God in the desert. The desert spaces in our life are God's sacred hiding place - the place we must all go to meet him heart to heart.
My daughter came into our room tonight and said a local man I know and respect had suddenly died. He had plans. He had family. He owned a sprawling ranch and cared for foster children. Now he is facing God.
'Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.'
Everything was stripped away. One minute he was a healthy, respected man, and then, without warning, a brain aneurysm took him away from this world. I shall miss him.
I remember clearly the last time I saw him. His face is now etched in my memory with a timeless poignancy. He looked at me in an almost questioning way. Was there something more to be said? I'll never know in this life. I had no idea he was going to be gone so soon.
He was one of those neighbours you just knew you could count on. Solid. Virtuous and a believer in the God who made us all. His sudden death has jolted me. It makes me want to live this day more present to my family and more present to God.
All of us need to face the simple undeniable fact that we have no real security here on earth. We are vulnerable. We are like the flowers of the field - here today and gone in a fleeting moment.
Lent is a time to look reality square in the face. You and I are going to die, perhaps when we least expect it.
We begin the journey of Lent with ashes. Those ashes are a sign of repentance and a reminder of the brevity of human life. The ashes we receive are a sign of our call to desert, a time when we voluntarily look past the false security of this passing world.
Lent is a time to look mortality in the eye. It is a dress rehearsal for death. A time to let the non-essentials fall way so we can live more deliberately, more aware of Jesus in the present moment.
Look around at the faces of family and friends. Our careers. Our joys and sorrows. They will pass. Moments come and go continually. The river flows on and on. Lent is a call to let go and admit that God alone sustains us.
God alone is enough. God alone can take our restless hearts and grip them with a love bigger and wider than any love this world can give.
In this week's First Reading from Exodus, Moses is alone in one of his great "desert moments." He sees a burning bush that is not consumed by fire. He is in awe. God calls him by name and says, "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."
All of life is holy ground. We need to sense it from the soles of our feet to the top of our head. Birth. Marriage. Death. Pain. Sorrow. Joy. Reconciliation. The Scriptures. The Eucharist. It is all holy ground because Jesus is with us.
Jesus transforms the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. He teaches us to see every relationship and every experience as holy ground, as a place to encounter the living God. Find your desert place. Ask God to open your spiritual eyes. May he teach you to experience your entire life as holy ground.
Lord, may we find you in the desert places of our life. May our illusions be stripped away in the divine fire of love. I believe and accept that my life is holy ground. May I always walk in your presence and experience all my relationships as a sacred trust given by you. Amen.