Day 16 – Awake When the Sun Rises
Over the last week, we have examined the ways that idolatry might be present in our lives. Rather than understanding idolatry as the worship of something physical or external to ourselves, we have looked at the ways that idolatry is primarily an issue of the heart. Idolatry occurs as we rely upon things (including ourselves) to provide things that only God can provide. We were made for Him and we are His (Psalm 100). Idolatry is not merely a sin against God. It is a sin against ourselves and our created design.
In the wilderness, we are exposed. We experience an emptiness, nakedness, and vulnerability. Christ offers Himself to cover and protect us. This is why we read in Romans 15: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” In the desolation of wilderness, we become aware of all the old clothing that we put on to cover our nakedness and shame. We see more clearly and sense the invitation from God to: “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires … and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22-24) A clothing metaphor is used here and in other portions of Scripture. Clothing serves a practical function – it covers and protects, and it also has an identification aspect – it signifies who we are. We generally choose to wear clothing that fits – both our body and our identity.
For Adam and Eve, when they became aware of their nakedness – they picked up fig leaves and began to hide – hiding not only their nakedness but hiding themselves from God. (cf. Genesis 3) The tragedy of the false self is that we think we’re covering and protecting ourselves (and in a sense we are) but more than that we’re hiding ourselves from God.
In so many ways, this is an unintended consequence. As we worship (give ourselves to) the gods of the false self, we are hiding from God because the attention of our heart and mind is on what we do, what we have, and what others think of us.
Over the centuries, there have been those who have intentionally inhabited a desert space. Commenting on the motivation, Belden Lane observed: “The desert monks were hardly naïve despisers of culture. What they fled with greatest fear was not the external world, but the world they carried inside themselves: an ego-centeredness needing constant approval, driven by compulsive behavior, frantic in its effort to attend to a self-image that always required mending.” (The Solace of Fierce Landscapes)
As we choose to abide in the wilderness, even when our entry was not a choice, and intentionally remove the clothing of the false self, we pick up the clothing of God’s presence, provision, and proclamation. He is our covering, our protection … our identity. Wilderness is, in this sense, a deep grace … a gift that we couldn’t receive any other way. It is a gift that we could never imagine or even know how to ask for. The movement from striving (what the false self demands) to rest (what God offers in true self) is not something we achieve, possess, or earn. In fact, those are the strategies of the old clothing, the false self. This rest is something we receive as gift. It is something that we enter into as we are aware.
Thomas Merton offered a perspective on the wilderness that roots us in the gift that it truly is: “The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men. The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted by men because it offered them nothing. There was nothing to attract them. There was nothing to exploit. The desert was the region in which the Chosen People had wandered for forty years, cared for by God alone. They could have reached the Promised Land in a few months if they had travelled directly to it. God’s plan was that they should learn to love Him in the wilderness and that they should always look back upon the time in the desert as the idyllic time of their life with Him alone.”
Our task in the desert is to stay awake and alert in order to be aware of the invitations. An ancient story illustrates this beautifully. An apprentice asks his spiritual master about the value of spiritual practice. “What can I specifically do to reach enlightenment?” The master responded, “As but as much as you can do to make the sun rise.” A bit perplexed, the disciple asks, “Then, why pray?” “Ah, so that you are awake when the sun rises?”
Ah, that we would be awake when the sun rises! That we would receive that awareness of His love and rest there in delight!
Consider these words from Psalm 37, “dwell in the land … and befriend faithfulness … delight yourself in the Lord … be still before the Lord … wait patiently for Him.” Sit with those words for a few moments. What stands out to you? How is the Lord shaping your heart right now?
Question for reflection: how are you waking to the Lord’s love and activity in your life?
Prayer: Lord, by Your mercy and through faith, may I be awake to Your love and the ways You are shaping me in this season. Give me the wisdom and courage to release the idols to which I tend to cling … that I might attach more fully to Your heart. Amen.