Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Holy Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days.
The Jordan is not the Mississippi or even the Nile. It isn’t much bigger than the little River Rhune that flows through Bonnevaux. Great or small, we never go down to the same river twice. Like our own identity over the decades, it flows ever onwards and yet we always recognise it. When recently, early one fresh morning, we renewed our baptisms in the Jordan, it was a very moving moment. The dimension of time separating us from the baptism of Jesus became less important than the spiritual dimension which the skeptical might dismiss merely as imagination. It opened us to a presence that stretched through all four dimensions and went beyond space and time. That particular space, the Jordan, however, was meaningful. And time is always precious: we squander it whenever we don’t let it intersect with the timeless.
After his baptism Jesus was ‘filled with the spirit’: his spiritual capacity had expanded. It propelled him not to the shopping mall or back to his carpenter’s workshop but into the Judean wilderness for forty days. (Forty is a Biblical shorthand for a period of time that separates two epochs. We catch something of it in the way we say we are ‘in transition’.) The Greek word for wilderness where he spent this time – it is our Lent – is eremos. It gives us the word for hermit, the solitary life. This is more relevant to all of us than many think, however busy with family, friends, fun and work we may be. We are more solitary than we care to admit. But if we ignore or deny it, we contract rather than expand, we avoid rather than meet our whole and true selves. Meditation is a time-respecting way of accepting and recognising our solitude, which is why it helps us understand the inner meaning of Lent. As a part of each day, it sends us back to our life, work and relationships clarified, purified, recharged and energised – as it did Jesus. But it also awakens us to the eremosdimension within.
Eremos can be translated in unattractive words: wilderness, desert, lonely region, uninhabited, desolate, bereft. Nonetheless, we might ask ourselves why are we drawn to it when we are filled with the spirit, or need to be? What is there in this kind of space – physical or mental eremos – that promises us something that other locations and activities do not. I had to spend three hours in a mall recently getting my phone repaired. After twenty minutes of over-stimulation I felt ‘wilderness’ or ‘lonely place’ described it well. But this is a different kind of desert from the one Jesus ‘was led’ into. Lent highlights this difference.
In the desert he was tempted by the forces of the ego that most of us spend at least forty years wrestling with: desire, power, pride. The time we spend in our eremos is not easy, just as meditation is not easy. Malls are easy. If meditation seems easy perhaps you are only shopping or browsing not meditating. Not easy but simple and empowering. Each meditation period, in which we try to be simple and choose to be free from the ego, lasts ‘forty days’.
Finally, having ‘exhausted all these ways of tempting him the devil left him, to return at the appointed time’. To guard the heart, until the next time, the meditator understands why we need eremos every day.
Read other Lent Reflections 2019: Week 1