For many of us our desire to connect with the numinous leads us to venture out into the 'wild places'.
Scripture speaks of the omnipresence of God - present everywhere, in all places at all times, and beyond time and place (eternity). Yet, we know from both Scripture and experience that the Presence of God is made known in particular ways in distinct places. Made known in the 'Houses' of God - tabernacle and Temple, as well as in the wild places.
God comes to us in the the wilderness, literally and figuratively. The wilderness is the place of wandering and wondering. We venture out into the wild places to 'wander about', but also to 'wonder' about stuff that matters. There is a freedom to be and to think in the wild places, removed as we are from the noise and the distractions of urban and sub-urban life. We talk about 'getting some space'. Wide open spaces widen the mind.
The wilderness can be an enforced experience, as it was for the People of God, fleeing Egypt and entering into the desert, where they wandered for forty years, wondering what this Strange God was doing among them.
The wilderness can also be entered voluntarily, as in the case of John the Baptist, and latterly Jesus, who spent one day for every year his people spent in the wilderness, confronting and overcoming dark spiritual forces. Aesthetes and truth seekers have been venturing out into the wilderness for millennia. Many never returned.
The wilderness is the place of confrontation. A place where we confront ourselves and our demons. Where we come face-to-face with our smallness, frailty and vulnerability. For:
This is the reason why John the Baptiser calls the people out from village, town, and city, into the wilderness. Calling them to confront themselves and their 'sin' - 'The Human Propensity to F**k Things Up' (Francis Spufford, Unapologetic). And to repent.
Advent, like Lent, is a season of preparation. Preparing for Christ Mass. And again, like Lent, it is a season of repentance. Repentance (turning back to God) is both starting point and staging post(s) on the journey of discipleship - following in the Way of Jesus Christ. There can be no true discipleship without repentance.
The questions that I am asking myself this Adventide is this: What is it that I need to confront in myself?. What do I need to turn away from? For I have heard a voice crying out in the wilderness...Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Keith Hitchman, Christ Church Toxteth Park. Sunday 10 December 2017. Advent 2.