Gospel According to Saint Luke (3:1-6)
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
When Luke quotes Isaiah in this week’s Gospel reading, he speaks of preparing “the way” of God in response to a voice in the desert. The desert is that wild place where we encounter a God who is untamed. In the days of the early church, seekers of the Holy One would wander out into the desert to leave behind the clamor of the city and listen for God found in those harsh landscapes. In that place of extremes, of stripping away, they heard the sacred whispers calling them to move beyond their everyday expectations.
Advent invites us to prepare a way within ourselves and to enter into our own “wilderness” — those places beyond our comfort zone. While we may find God in familiar places and practices, often it is a God who will fit into our boxes and preconceived ideas. Once we are ready to set the divine free, we are invited to move to the edges of what we know, to grow less comfortable and stretch ourselves into new spaces. There we will be asked to confront Mystery and to dwell with it, allowing it room to spread wide within us. This experience can be both unnerving and exhilarating.
The God of wild places coaxes me into exterior and interior landscapes I had not dared to go before, places where the trails are unmarked and I must rely on my own intuitive sense and the longing which moves me forward. I once had a dream that I was on a densely forested island. Half the island had well-marked trails, and half required me to make my own way through. I was given the choice and I chose to leave the trails behind. I woke up feeling exhilarated, as though deep within I had claimed a new path that did not depend on the trail someone else had created for me. Certainly I could draw on the wisdom of the ancients, but ultimately I had to place one foot in front of the other myself and take responsibility for where this brought me. I had to listen deeply as in each moment God was whispering a sacred invitation.
Sometimes we might be tempted to think that God has a one right way for each of our lives and we struggle to discern what that one plan is. The wild and untamed God of the desert and of Advent’s dark womb space of waiting is a God who offers us many life-giving possibilities in each moment. The invitation becomes one where we listen to the experiences which make our heart beat more loudly and then step into them. Last week we were invited to awaken – the purpose of that awakening is to see God more clearly pulsing in each footfall, beckoning to us, luring us forward into meaning, adventure, and delight.
This Advent season what am you preparing for? And what is being prepared within you?
What are the growing edges of your own life? Where are the places you have not wanted to go until now? What might you discover of God in the wilderness that you have not been ready to receive until now?
What does it mean to discover your own authentic way, the one rooted in your deepest desires? Can you delight in knowing the way is within, the road is made by walking?
(Cobblestones in photo above taken in St. Peter’s Square, Rome)
© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts