Between my first and second years at theological college, I had the opportunity to go on a study trip to the Holy Land.
The wilderness is a significant physical and psychological reality in the biblical tradition. It is both an external and an internal geography; a place in which you can be lost, and found, and a metaphor for life. At first glance, the wilderness is barren, lifeless. A closer look, a longer more patient look, reveals that it is a place of life, home to plants and animals – and, indeed, human beings – alike.
I am writing this in the Season of Lent, a season of invitation to withdraw from certain aspects of everyday life in order to rediscover the God who gives us life in the first place. I am also writing from a place of vulnerable psychological wellbeing. This is not my permanent nor even primary address, but it is a place I am familiar with. Indeed, it is a place I believe so many of us are familiar with that I could not be fully human without such familiarity. We have a tendency to consider the experience of vulnerable psychological wellbeing in negative terms: as a problem to be fixed – or, better still, pro-actively avoided – or a reason to judge others or indeed ourselves harshly; as failing at life, rather than part of life. We are all vulnerable persons at certain times in our lives. But what if vulnerable psychological wellbeing might be understood as experience of the wilderness? And what if being in the wilderness was a risky, demanding, but potentially positive thing?
I want to go on a journey into the wilderness, taking that closer look. In particular, I want to suggest that:
the wilderness is a place of open-handed vulnerability;
the wilderness is a place of refuge; and that
the wilderness is a place of prayer.