Into the Wilderness
It’s only when we venture into inhuman landscapes, that we find the terrain for becoming human.
Immediately after Jesus was lifted out of the river water by John, God’s voice tore through the skies declaring: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Mk 1:11).” A miraculous affirmation of tenderness and love, one of which, is sung over each of us.
We’re all beloved children of God (1 Jn 3:1).
But what’s the result of being loved by God? of having a divine father?
The next verse in Mark’s gospel answers the question, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness (Mk 1:12).” To be loved by God, to be his child, is to be driven into the wilderness, the place of preparation. For it’s only when we’re stripped of essentials, that we uncover the essential. It’s only when we venture into inhuman landscapes, that we find the terrain for becoming human.
The story of Jesus being driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, has become for me, the symbolic acting out of the Purgative way.
In it, we see Jesus participating in asceticism, practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting for forty days.
Then we witness his temptation, resisting our common enemy.
And in the background of it all, he endures affliction, embracing the pain of hunger and the suffering of isolation.
Christ, the divine man, was not exempt from the Purgative way, and neither are we. Our task as we progress toward union with the Trinity, is not just to learn about these purifying experiences, but to live them as Christ lived them.
Asceticism, temptation, and affliction make up the contours of the Purgative way, they are the purifying means God uses to grow a soul godlike.
But for any of them to transform us, we must first recognize that being a loved child of God is the reason for it all. God grows us because he loves us (Heb 12:6).
He’s the Vinekeeper who cuts and prunes his vines so they can bear more fruit.
He’s the Jeweler who burns his gold, purging it of every impurity so it will dazzle.
He’s the Potter who refashions his clay again-and-again so it can bear his grace and glory.
Love is the foundation for all our purgation.
But it’s more.
It’s not just our foundation; it’s our destination — our telos, not just to be loved, but to become love.
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