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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

The Wilderness Experience: A Reflection for Lent

(Photo by Taryn Elliot – Pexels)

I was watching a TV show about game wardens in New England. One day they got a call from an anxious family reporting a loved one missing. She was an “elderly” lady (about my age at the time, I noted!), an avid hiker, someone very familiar with the mountain trail she was hiking on alone. She had dutifully reported in to her family regularly. But on the fourth day, when they didn’t hear from her, the family reported her missing. Soon hundreds and hundreds of volunteers were combing the trail and surrounding area where she was last seen. For weeks they searched for her. Think helicopters, bull horns, canines. But to no avail. When the harsh winter began to set in, the authorities were forced to make the painful decision to call off the search. Many months later, in the summer, other hikers, who were walking off the trail, stumbled upon a small campsite. Inside the tiny collapsed tent, were the remains of the missing woman. After determining there was no foul play involved, the authorities concluded that she had somehow become lost, eventually ran out of food, and met her death in the New England wilderness.

I remember thinking, Wow! Even someone with decades of experience on that mountain trail could get so disoriented, they could die! I concluded, the wilderness is a scary place. The wilderness is a dangerous place. The wilderness can kill you! In his book, Drink Deeply with Delight, Howard Hanger says this about the wilderness: “The problem with the wilderness is that you’re not in charge. The problem with the wilderness is, things aren’t organized. The problem with the wilderness is, life doesn’t run on schedule–or at least your schedule. The problem with the wilderness is… it’s wild.”

(Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery – Pexels)

But can the wilderness also be a holy place?

I find it very significant that before Jesus called his first disciples, preached his first sermon, or healed his first leper, he deliberately chose to spend 40 days in the wilderness–certainly without a compass and probably without a tent. Why did he do this? Howard Hanger gives this clue: “When it comes to discovering who you are and what you’re about, never discount the value of a little time on the wild side.” Jesus was on the verge of discovering who he really was and what he should to do with the rest of his life. Perhaps he instinctively knew he needed time alone with his God, stripped of all the familiar people and trappings of his ordinary life. He needed to encounter not only himself, but also his God “face to face” (in a way). He needed to trust God to show him the next step to take in his life.

We don’t have to be in the New England woods or on a Galilean mountainside to experience the wilderness. Sometimes the wilderness can be our own hometown or even inside our own house. Just think of those times in your life where you felt lost, alone, not in charge. Times when your life seemed completely disorganized and nothing was running on your schedule. Here’s an example. Although I’ve never had a child, I think the birth of a first child can be a wilderness experience for parents. When my nephew and his wife had their first child, little Reece, and were packing things up to take him home, their doctor walked in and asked them how they were doing. My nephew, looking down at their day old, helpless little son said, “You know, Doctor, this is going to be a daunting task.” The doctor smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Chris. Remember: cave men and women did this!”

(Photo by PNW Productions- Pexels)

Other wilderness experiences might be: moving to another city or country, going off to college, making a retreat, starting a new job, going through a divorce, facing retirement, being diagnosed with a serious illness, losing a loved one. As discombobulating as it may be, the wilderness can be a holy place.

Perhaps we can look upon the 40 days of Lent as a wilderness experience. No, we need not seek out a cave or pitch a tent in a local forest. But perhaps we can set some time aside these days to do what Jesus himself did in the wilderness: to get in touch with who we really are OR who we really want to be (start with a child of God… a disciple of Jesus… a better spouse, parent, grandparent, adult child, friend, vowed religious man/woman, priest, human being!)… to re-appraise our priorities (One hint of our real priorities: how are we spending our time and our money?)… how might we deepen those relationships that we say mean so much to us? (Carving out time for our spouse… zooming an old friend… visiting an elderly relative…)… how might we grow in gratitude for all the gifts we have received in our life so far?… and (in the end) to formulate a plan for what we want to do with the rest of our life.

The wilderness can be a scary place where we are not in charge, where we do a lot of waiting, where we experience loneliness. But it can also be the place where, like Jesus, we encounter God in a new and life-changing way. For God is always with us in the wilderness. It is the place where God does some of God’s most creative and beautiful work!

I wish you all a rich and blessed Lent!

For reflection:

Have you ever had a wilderness experience? If so, what was that experience like for you? Did you experience God there? Did anything good come from that experience?

Have you ever been able to help someone else who was experiencing the wilderness? If so, how were you able to help?

How do you plan to “celebrate” Lent this year?

Our video today is a beautiful song called “The Wilderness.” It is sung by The Isaacs, a bluegrass southern gospel music group. Some of my favorite lines are: “You might have to wait… and pray more than you usually do… God won’t lead you where he won’t keep you… God says, ‘Remember who I am’… and keep movin’ on.”

I invite you to write a comment below–about the reflection itself, the reflection questions, the video, or the photos. Our readers are always happy to hear from you! And so am I!

23 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    Like all your reflections, this one has made me think. And so, what will be my Lenten wilderness? I have some ideas, but I’m leaning towards facing the wilderness of boredom. Here’s what I mean. YouTube has become a daily habit of mine, and so that means — like any good social media platform — it knows my preferences, my “click algorithms.” I know if I “go” there, it will have waiting for me “echo chambers” of my political or religious or musical or athletic (sports) leanings. And when do I go there? When I’m bored.

    I want to find God in the boredom of my daily life. When I’m bored, why can’t I just take a walk or read a book or read a fascinating long-form article or write a letter or write a poem or…pray? Or just do nothing — just sit or stare out the window, letting my mind wander, waiting for the Lord.

  2. Melanie thank you for your blog at times it is the very comfort I need. Sometimes when you are older and don’t have much human interaction it can be a wilderness. And I do believe that I have lost my faith not in Jesus but in the church.I am reading 40Days with Jesus from the Chosen it gives you a lot to think about.Thanks again

  3. Just what I needed to hear. My brother and I are caring for my elderly parents and it can feel like we are in the wilderness. Trying to find God in the chaos this Lent

  4. Perfect song for me today! I’m dealing with some health issues. Generally I am the healthy one, the caregiver for others. This song speaks to me of moving through with God by my side. Thank you.

  5. Your words today and especially the song really spoke to me. I find myself in a wilderness of health and aging issues and sometimes my prayer feels like a wilderness also. I am reminded that I am not in the wilderness alone. Your words are a blessing also.

  6. I feel as I have lived in the wilderness for many years. I don’t like it, have railed against it but have finally decided to be patient and accept this is where God wants me to be. How long? Don’t know, but I find provisions along the way that sustain me.

  7. Beautiful reflection to begin Lent. My wilderness took a different course. Found the direction and path I’ve been searching for by becoming an Oblate Novice of the sister of St Benedict, leading to a more spiritual way of life. Also looking forward to Lent to increase my time with the Lord, and making more time in the service of others. Thank you for your weekly blog, perfect way to start each week.

  8. Sparked many ideas… I will clear out a few old and time-consuming habits to make room for a little wilderness exploration. Thank you so much ☺️

  9. Greetings Sister Melannie. Thank you for your inspirational posts. I find that, often, Life is a wilderness. When I can fully accept that I am not in charge (well, not of much anyway), the more I can rely on God’s provision and guidance. In these moments, I achieve blessed serenity.

  10. Wow! Great song. When I started my trek on the Appalachain trail I was very apprehensive. As a solo hiker I didn’t know what to expect. As i walked the trail it came to me. I was not alone. I had many conversations with God as I moseyed along. Our friendship developed and has never waivered to this day. Even today, as I do local hikes, I have a special spot where I can stop and talk to Him. Even tho He is very busy, He is always there for me. It is really not wilderness as He is always there with you.

  11. I believe that lent begins on Valentine’s day this year as a reminder of God’s love for us that is beyond measure. I hope Ash Wed’s is the beginning of a love story to ponder very deeply.

  12. I once felt abandoned in a crowded store. That moment passed, but the feeling of being lost anywhere can be frightening. Most news I hear and see is disorienting: the world and our country are imperilled. Millions suffer far more than little anxious me. Some are killed with no one to defend them. I hold together with faith like that of the Isaacs, and I know that the faith I feed on from spiritual and biblical reading strengthens me. I am happy to believe that with faith come hope and the loving grace to try to make dangerous life more in line with the Beatitudes. Thank you deeply, Sister Melannie, for this message and song.

  13. Thank you for the spiritual wisdom of the wilderness experience. To truly quiet ourselves in prayer with our search for our needs to truly live in full trust and guidance.
    I pray for discipline, daily to make time to feel like I am in the wilderness every day thru Lent in prayer for how I can live a Christian life deserving your forgiveness.

  14. What a great way to think about Lent this year. I’ve learned that I need to approach Lent taking a week at a time so as not to get discouraged. I try to do something different every week as Lenten practice. It’s usually a little thing, but I pay more attention, rather than thinking about a daunting 6 weeks of “doing this thing.” My one constant is what I started some years ago – a daily “Lent letter” to someone I usually only contact at Christmas, and then often now, only electronically. I sit down and write a note to someone every day. I get a few very rewarding responses- making it all worthwhile. But, the “small” things help me and I can focus on a “wilderness” experience better in small bites. Thank you for your wisdom once again. A blessed Lent to all…followed by a JOYOUS Easter.

    1. Patt,
      Thank you for sharing. I love the idea of a weekly theme! (The entirety of Lent can feel overwhelming at times). What other weekly themes have you tried?

      1. the usual “fasting from …” thing (chocolate, snacks, soda); saying only good things out loud even when very tempted to criticize; extra rosary/chaplet each day for that week; doing something extra for my hubby (who does lotsa nice stuff for me); being extra patient in traffic or at the store behind “that” person who makes you crazy; picking a special charity to make an extra donation based on what I normally would buy for a treat for the week. Lots of options — creativity is a wide open field. God loves a creative “child.”

  15. Hello Sister Melannie and fellow sunflower readers. The words that rang out for me are “The wilderness can be a scary place where we are not in charge, where we do a lot of waiting, where we experience loneliness. But it can also be the place where, like Jesus, we encounter God in a new and life-changing way”.
    Back in April 1989, a co-worker named Dick invited me to a weekend with Christian men called “Walk to Emmaus”. I was struggling In many areas of my life, and this friend persuaded me to attend. I reluctantly attended and it was the turning point in my spiritual development as an adult, male Christian. God, through my friend Dick and the other men who planned and executed this Walk, helped me begin to reshape my relationship with Jesus and my brothers and sisters in Christ. That 3 day, weekend experience helped prepare me for the “fourth days” that followed. My faith continues to grow and I face my “wilderness” struggles and problems with God at my side. Oh, Dick and I remain good friends, praying for each other and sharing what our challenges and blessings are, although a thousand miles separate us.

  16. Good morning Melannie
    I am very grateful for your blogs and have been enjoying them each week.
    I feel as if I am in a wilderness with this new ministry that I have been asked to undertake. In some ways it is not new and in many ways it is. There are times when I feel lost in the busyness and shuffle of this new ministry. But I also know that I have people that I can count on who will help me and I trust that the Lord knows what he is doing and putting me in this position. Your blogs give me hope and increase my trust and love for the Lord. I especially love the songs that you choose to fit with your blogs so meaningful are they. Thank you again and God bless all the good that you do for us.

  17. Blessings Sister Melannie,
    I love the concept of the wilderness. Jesus was not alone in the wilderness,His father was with him. We, being followers of Jesus, are in the same position. God, our Father, is always with us. These 40 days will no doubt bring moments of “being in the wilderness” This will give us opportunities to trust in our Lord and use those moments to serve and to be with Him. May all of us try to make the up and coming days of Lent be fruitful, filled with trust, hope, and especially love by our acceptance and involvement with God’s plans for each of us.

  18. Thank you Sr. Melannie for this wonderful blog. Each week you give me something new to ponder & introduce me to new songs of inspiration. “Wilderness”really hit home for me. In some ways I feel like I’ve been in the wilderness for the last 30 years…sharing it sometimes with Family & friends, but mostly by myself. The Lord has been there too…I know all of the time, but there were times I felt He was more in the shadows. The refrain from the song “In the Wilderness” was very comforting & I just have to remember to “Move on.”
    Once a month I gather with 5 other women (3 Sisters of Holy Cross & 2 other ladies), we just finished your book “Traits of a Healthy Spirituality”…each taking a topic for the month. Soon we will be starting on “Hanging onto Hope”
    I hope & Pray that you continue to heal successfully from your surgery. Look forward to seeing your next blog.

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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