On a journey to Easter
By Mary Caygill
It has become something of a tradition for me to take time to pause in a contemplative way to become conscious of the rhythm of Lent that moves into the central events of Easter.
Each year I try to select a particular book of readings which will help me focus on the movement required to move towards Jerusalem – through the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection and what this might mean for me within the season of life that I am dwelling in.
This year I have been taking daily bites out of a book entitled, ‘The Sacred Desert’ by David Jasper. The motif of the desert has always been pivotal to me in my understanding of life and faith, no more so than over the past ten years living through the after effects of two major episodes of clinical depression.
The season of Lent traditionally begins with Ash Wednesday. I well recall my first experience as a very raw student of Trinity Methodist Theological College marking this occasion and feeling most uneasy about an ashen sign of the cross being placed on my forehead. My Methodist forebears whispered of such acts as being most suspicious.
Over the years marking Ash Wednesday has become an acknowledgment that I am a mortal creature and in time, like all flesh, I will die. I am finite. My capacities are both bounded and limited by a vast empty space. The acknowledgement of my mortality is a crucial reminder that there are limits to living and there are consequences of presuming on these limits.
Each Ash Wednesday as I carry the mark of the ashen cross on my forehead I reflect on both the gift and limits of my unique being – my “I am” and ponder afresh as to how I might live my mortality to the full and live to the full in the manner of one who seeks to reflect something of the Christ way.
The Sundays following Ash Wednesday move me into the space of the desert. The desert is a place where we encounter ourselves in a vast unbounded space. A place of wandering but also a place of meeting. A wandering seemingly alone encountering the demons within – the hauntings of one’s innermost beings – but in the midst of the wandering when one’s limits have been tested beyond all measure, a meeting with the angels – the transcendent ‘other’ of the divine, a reminder of one’s essential connectedness within the profound and tender embrace of God.
No more so is the paradoxical nature of the desert experience spoken of than in the poetry of Moses song, offered as some of his last living words, giving testimony to the embrace of God through forty years of wandering.
“He sustained him in a desert land,
in a howling wilderness waste;
he shielded him, cared for him, guarded him as the apple of his eye.
As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
and bears them aloft on its pinions,
Within the desert I am led into an encounter with both the reality of crucifixion and resurrection. I am led to wrestle with all that would negate the gift of life and leave me in the darkness of despair but I am also encountered by the poetic act of the angels. They bring with them the horizon and sustenance of hope, embodied in the passionate yes of God’s love – a love that no darkness can ever extinguish.