Deserts & Mountains

Lent is a most wonderful, grace-filled, and joyous season within Christianity.  The forty-day journey begins with a mark of ashes, sign of our mortality and communion with God.  On the Sunday following Ash Wednesday, we read or hear a Gospel account of Jesus going into the desert for forty days and nights to contend with the devil.  On the next Sunday, we are told that Jesus, along with His closest companions, ascended a high mountain and, flanked by historical heroes of faith, underwent a glorious transfiguration in their presence.  These two events capture well our human nature and proclaim our Christian destiny.

This annual journey from ashes to Easter reflects our earthly journey.  Like The BeatlesLong and Winding Road, it is filled with many ups and downs, plenty of peaks and valleys, our share of twists and turns, and it has a destination: “The long and winding road leads me to your door.  It will never disappear—we’ve seen this road before; and it always leads me here—here outside your door.”  For people of faith, it’s the path of glory and the door is the pearly gate of heaven, the entryway that Christ unlocked on the first Easter.  The path to get there was not easy for Him and would be impossible for anyone else.  Though we couldn’t endure His unbearable agony or the excruciating scourge, couldn’t imagine the Via Dolorosa or the weight of His cross, and can barely even contemplate His suffering on Calvary, each year we step with Him into the desert knowing that we’ll also see the mountaintop.

I guess that’s the way it is with us: we can only handle so much.  Most of us have ridden roller coasters and we appreciate them as an exaggerated metaphor for our own life experiences of thrills, fears, obstacles, beautiful friendships, sad times, lonely periods, falling in love, suffering divorce, losing loved ones, great health, horrible injury, difficult challenges, incredible achievements, close calls, devastating sorrow, vulnerable joy, and glimpses of divine glory.  Life is a ride that takes us from deserts to mountaintops.

Jesus tells us that the desert is the place to encounter demons.  There are many names for the devil that Jesus encountered: the deceiver, tempter, accuser, the one who causes us to scatter or shrink…  I doubt he appeared with horns, hooves, tail, or pitchfork in hand; he probably looked much more like the demons we face in our daily living who appear in more nebulous forms of addictions, obsessions, anger, jealousy, self-pity, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, or a thousand other faces that Satan wears while roaming the world seeking ruin.  Jesus overcame the trial and His victory inspires us to do the same.  It helps knowing that the desert gets followed by a mountaintop event where we might catch a glimpse of the grandeur beyond this life.  Some of our saints and heroes proclaimed that they have been to the mountain’s peak and beheld divine grace and majesty.  Their report gives us great hope of heaven’s kingdom and reminds us that Lent carries with it a most profound message about our own journey and destiny.

“Lent,” from the Anglo-Saxon language, means spring.  In the Valencian (Spanish) language, it refers to something that happens over and over.  Over and over, Lent takes us from winter into spring, from cold into warmth, from darkness into light, from ashes to Easter, and essentially from death to life.  It takes us from the desert, a place of encountering demons, to the mountaintop, a place of encountering divine glory.  Let’s appreciate the journey—even enjoy the ride.  It’s a long and winding road that might just take us to heaven’s door.  “Still it leads me back on the long and winding road; you left me standing there a long, long time ago.  Don’t leave me waiting here, but lead me to your door.”