My friend and I once hiked through Joshua Tree National Park in the middle of summer. Temperatures soared into the hundreds. By day we were blinded by the sunlight reflecting off the sand, and we thirsted. At night you would freeze, and before dawn was the worst as dew would cling to your body before the sun would rise off in the distance. I remember my trip to Joshua Tree when I think of Jesus in the desert. The desert was where Jesus was preparing for the ultimate sacrifice—where God’s will was leverage against the humanity of Jesus for the redemption of our sins.
With Easter coming soon I’ve found myself thinking more about Lent and the sacrifices Jesus made. I have often wondered why God would allow Jesus to traverse the desert for 40 days, dusty, hungry and thirsty.
Tempted of the devil, Jesus responded, “Don’t try to test the Lord your God.” He didn’t bend. What if I were in the desert in His sandals? Would I have given in? Would I question faith’s reality? Would I tempt God?
Almost juxtaposed to Lent and Easter is Mardi Gras with it’s big guns, lights and bright colors. Invitations thrown to passers-by from balconies to strangers—beads an offering wrapped around the neck of youthful women as we pierce them through with the thoughts in our minds. And this is the celebration that ushers in Ash Wednesday? I can’t help to wonder if somehow we’ve gone astray. Not so long ago, when I was younger and less routed in my beliefs, my friends and I would celebrate Fat Tuesday in the local Irish pubs. There was even a pub down on Ash Street—its name a reminder that Ash Wednesday was upon us. It called out, “Jesus has risen from the dead,” but back then I didn’t listen to that voice very well. I felt a contradiction between these two celebrations.
It feels as though we walk these bridges between the realities of Jesus and the world. The bridge crumbling a little more each time we wear its tread, sinking further into the waters beneath. I’ve never really participated in Lent, and it’s not because I haven’t tried; I have. It’s just that I’ve never been big on sacrifice. I like my Latte’s and Americanos too much. I need my fix. And even though I know its good to sacrifice our worldly comforts, this is a knowledge I wish I did not have.
And although I would gladly give up these things if you could pry them from my action figure Kung Fu-like grip, the worldly comforts contain me at times. It’s probably apparent through my hostile reservations, my very present need to partake in such an observance as self-sacrifice or Lent. I realize that to participate in this sacrifice is to say I need God more than I need this world. That this world is a fleeting thought, and I am a sojourner in this country a long way gone from my home.
I think if we could get past this world and our indulgences and go without, then we are closer to God perhaps in spirit. I remember nights when I was struggling and had little money for food, days when I would “gladly pay you Tuesday for a cheeseburger today” when I suffered loss. In those days my spirit was in need, and in that weakness God was my only strength.
Admittedly I laugh sometimes when I hear of people sacrificing chocolate or sugar for Lent as though this somehow compares to being tempted by the devil (or for that matter as if giving up my Latte’s would count for much). I’ve wondered how this even compares to walking the scorched sands of the desert, parched lips, blistered feet, sand in your hair, the desert your home. I think of the trials in life and how they are much like the desert—a difficult place to be. How they feel like a type of hell.
Sometimes I think of Mardi Gras as the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. I think of how the Bible says in the last days they will eat, drink and be merry; how they have totally missed the point in the first place. And who are they, after all? I wondered, and Why celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at a drunken Fat Tuesday? Life at times feels like a desert—it can often be a barren place, or worse, filled with deep temporal sands that trap us into thinking there is no eternal. At times we walk through places where the streets have no name, these deserts.
And maybe this is why I feel Mardi Gras and remembering the sacrifice of Jesus are opposed to one another. Some times I can’t help but to think of how God explains Himself as light and truth and how light can’t really be explained and how as near as physicists can calculate, light has always existed out side of time. I some times think of these and the relational experience of God, and I wonder why God describes Himself as light and the devil as darkness.
Remembering Jesus and celebrating Mardi Gras seem to be at odds with each other much like the gulf between darkness and light. The one seems to be for the here and now, the other eternal. And maybe in part this is why it feels there is a battle between light and dark.
And maybe this is why I feel I should remember the sacrifice made for me in the desert and on a lone hillside and walk away from self. And maybe this is why I’ve wonder if I were in the desert in His sandals would I give in, would I question faiths reality, would I tempt God?