The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.
I was at the monthly gathering of Seattle-area Oblates yesterday afternoon and, as always, it was a rich and nourishing time. We engaged in lectio divina together, as is our practice, and the scripture came from today’s Gospel reading. (See above for the first half.)
In my prayer, the phrase that struck me was “the angels ministered to him.” As often happens in lectio, I will read a familiar passage and see something I have never seen before. This time it was the angels which I don’t remember reading about previously.
In our sharing, I talked about how I have been tired these last couple of weeks — in part some low-grade virus I have been fighting off, in part Petunia’s surgery which summons my emotional energy, and in part a lot of very good things happening in my work life. This weekend I had planned as a time of rest, a time to simply be in the desert of Lent and listen for what was happening within me, rather than all around. Little did I know I would be encountering angels.
Last Friday afternoon, feeling worn out, God was feeling very small to me. My vision was limited by the needs of my body. We are of course body and soul woven together, and so when I am physically overtired, my soul begins to feel narrow.
I began my weekend of rest with acupuncture and a massage, followed by a good night’s sleep and a day of snuggling with the Abbess. Yesterday was a chance to catch up on some things and then gather with my spiritual community. And God is feeling so very wide again, stretching me open as well.
I am drawn to the desert, to the stripping away of that which is not essential. Those of us in the Western world largely live lives of abundance encumbered by many things, and too much information coming at us. I need reminders — both in the natural world through the season of autumn and in the liturgical calendar through the season of Lent — that paradoxically, life can seem so much richer, so much wider, with less things to distract me. There is deep beauty in spareness and simplicity, in remembering what is most important.
Somehow though, because this is often a solitary journey to the desert, I forget that I do not make this pilgrimage alone. I am surrounded not only by the presence of God, but by the angels ministering in their multitude of ways. Not just shiny cherubs playing their harps, but full-grown angels who know the struggles of life in intimate ways. In fact, some of those angels are my ancestors helping me along, the Communion of Saints saying yes, we know life can be hard and we are here to offer you wisdom along the way. Tune, of course, is also her own kind of angel. I was very aware this weekend that she was helping me to recover as much as I was helping her. My fellow Oblates, those beautiful souls traveling on the road with me, ministered in their presence last night, their willingness to travel to difficult places together.
As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Feeling restored I am allowing the winged energy of delight to begin to build the great arch of unimagined bridges across the divides of my life again. I am allowing the angels to minister to me, to acknowledge them and receive their grace, to listen to their song and allow it to carry me. Can you hear them?
(Photos of angels taken in Vienna, Austria last summer)