Into the Wilderness: Holding onto Love

Next the Devil took Jesus to the Holy City, set him on the parapet of the Temple and said, “If you are the Only Begotten, throw yourself down. Scripture has it, ‘God will tell the angels to take care of you; with their hands they will support you that you may never stumble on a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “Scripture also says, ‘Do not put God to the test.’”
– Matthew 3:5-7, Inclusive Translation


We have an incredibly hard time holding onto love. 

Especially in times like these, fear, anxiety, and worry are powerful forces that so easily make love seem elusive and distant. 

Sometimes I get very frustrated at this aspect of being human. It seems that even when I have had an experience of profound love, even when an affirmation lands deep in my bones, even then I can lose touch with this love so, so quickly. 

I wonder if severing this connection to love is what the Accuser (my preferred term for the Devil character in Scripture) is trying to accomplish with Jesus in the second wilderness temptation. This section begins with a manipulative “If”. 

If you are the chosen one, the beloved of God….prove it. You think you experienced this profound moment at your baptism. Sure, you think, the heavens opened and the voice of God affirmed you as beloved. The taunting sarcasm pours off the page.

The Accuser is trying to cause Jesus to lose hold of love; to trade in sacred blessing for a hollowed out version of itself. 

If you throw yourself off this tower and are rescued by the angels….then….then, you’ll know that you matter. Then you’ll be able to trust that you are truly beloved.

Lies that we are told by our own inner accusers on a regular basis. I imagine they sound familiar. If you just work a little harder, you’ll earn some love. If you could be perfect, you will be worthy of love. Or whatever your own personal version might be.

In the Ignatian spiritual tradition, the Devil is described as the bearer of false light. A spiritual enemy who takes on the appearance of a friend. We are presented with counterfeit truths and asked to believe them. It is very hard not to believe them. 

Robin Wall Kimmerer also ponders where these false offerings are taking us:

“The fear for me is that the world has been turned inside out, the dark side made to seem light. Indulgent self-interest that our people once held to be monstrous is now celebrated as success. We are asked to admire what our people once viewed as unforgivable.

The consumption-driven mind-set masquerades as ‘quality of life’ but eats us from within. It is as if we’ve been invited to a feast, but the table is laid with food that nourishes only emptiness, the black hole of the stomach that never fills. We have unleashed a monster.” (308)

Our culture has traded sacred blessing for insatiable hunger. Especially as it relates to our relationship with the earth and all creatures outside of humanity. We have thrown ourselves off of the parapet and are waiting for rescue. Waiting for the false promise to be fulfilled.

In this time of pandemic, we can see some of this insatiable hunger appearing as people react out of fear and panic by hoarding and some try to profit off of the crisis. 

And yet what I mostly see is people clinging hard to love. 

In the wilderness, Jesus was able to see through the Accuser’s false claims and stay grounded in his own sacred blessing. “You are my beloved.”

We have suddenly been thrust into our very own wilderness this past week. And I think there are many signs that we too are standing in love – even if we can’t always feel it. From the many forms of community and encouragement emerging on social media, to choosing more extreme isolation to protect the vulnerable, to the plethora of creative offerings of concerts, art, and activities online. 

We are claiming our blessing: one another. May we know how deeply we are loved.

Reflection Questions:

  • What has been your experience of sacred blessing?
  • What does the voice of your inner accuser sound like?
  • How do you tell the difference between authentic love and the counterfeit version?

Practices:

1) Remember a time when you encountered profound love.
What was that like? What did it feel like in your body?
Did you sense God’s presence? How?

Return to that experience in your imagination.
Ask God to help you savour the experience.

Journal or create art reflecting on your experience.

2) Sharing the love:

Write notes of encouragement for your neighbours, friends, or people living in isolation (ie. seniors).
Help others to remember they are loved.

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