“And suddenly angels came…”
I witnessed this this just yesterday…angels tending one of God’s beloved in the wilderness…
But first, this:
I took a few days off this last week to ‘reset’ a bit.
It had been too long since I have had more than a couple of consecutive days away from work and I was feeling brittle. I was grateful that this stretch of time landed in a week in February which was unseasonably warm and sunny for this meant I could get out and walk a little more. I used the time to also eat a little less, to sleep a little longer, to stretch a little deeper. For it is so that with the onset of Lent I know that the extras of this season will otherwise take their toll. It was not exactly ‘wilderness’ of course — at least not the sort of time which Jesus experienced for forty days and nights apart. Rather, mine was preparation for the wilderness yet to come. If not in these next six weeks, then the sort that comes unbidden to all of us.
And so it was that on my first day back I found myself traveling to Milwaukee to visit one whose “wilderness” has been long and deep, but who also bears witness to the presence of ‘angels’ in the midst of a time where the end is not yet in sight. And no, for her this is not a wilderness of her choosing. Not one marked off on the calendar as a kind of preparatory time for what may yet come, but one that came to her and those she loved in unspeakable grief and unrelenting illness which threatened much of what had been held dear. Indeed, truth be told, many who have followed her journey from a distance wondered if this wilderness would end this side of heaven, for the human body and spirit can only withstand so much. As for me it is so that my prayers were constant: prayers for strength and courage and healing and hope. And yet, in my praying, I was not at all sure of what to hope for.
And so Monday was the first time I had seen her since last fall for nearly 9,000 miles had stood between her in South Africa and me here in Northern Illinois. And this is what I saw: her body is fragile, yes, but her spirit shone through her eyes as she shared the story which will surely mark and shape the rest of her life. The story of taking ill. Of waking up in a strange place to learn that her heart had stopped and been revived. Of the moment she heard that her cancer is virulent and advanced. Of the gathering of family. And of the nurses who stayed with her day and night and who witnessed to her day after day — speaking of their faith and praying for her even as they tended her daily needs, giving her body a chance to fight back from the precipice where she had been. To give her the chance to ‘come home.’
Others who know her better than I will tell you her faith was always strong. But such faith is not developed by accident, it seems to me. While it is always gift, of course, faith is surely strengthened by such ancient practices as prayer and study and worship and generosity and efforts to live in trust even when it is seems impossible to do so. The very sorts of practices which we find ourselves turning to once again during these forty days and forty nights every year. No, one’s spirit could not survive this particular wilderness if wilderness had not somehow been chosen and thus encountered and embraced and grown in and through before.
And this particular wilderness I witnessed yesterday is not yet done, of course. Treatment has started in earnest now with all that will mean. But more than that? I heard her speak with a kind of longing for those nurses in South Africa. “The nurses here are sweet,” she said, “but…” Indeed. She had had the very ‘angels of God’ ministering to her there so far from home…
And so this is why we are given Lent. This is why we have these forty days and forty nights. This time is surely meant as gift to us to enter into those practices which surely we will all one day need on that day we enter a wilderness not of our choosing. Practices which will aid us in turning back evil itself with all of its empty promises which the devil so glibly makes today. As Jesus did.
- To remember that the source of true life is not the bread we eat, but the Bread of Life.
- To learn once more that God is not one to be tested, but is our Companion, our Savior, our first and final Hope.
- To recognize that God is the source of all goodness and that when we bow — in our thoughts or our words or our daily choices — to any other god, we will always come up empty for such goodness is not theirs to give away in the first place.
Some of you are actually in the ‘wilderness’ today — the sort of wilderness you did not choose. May you know the very angels of God ‘ministering to you’ in powerful ways even now.
Others of us have the chance to live into a ‘wilderness’ of our choosing now, preparing for that time when true wilderness will surely be ours as well.
In this time and in the times to come I am grateful to say that I, for one, am strengthened by the witness and the example of others — particularly one who just this week shared the story of her time in the wilderness with shining eyes: one who is living the truth that ‘we don’t live by bread alone’ —- but by the very gifts of God. Even now when she is not yet out of this particular ‘wilderness.’ But in the midst of which she is surely sustained by the experience and the promise that God’s Own Angels are tending her. And I find myself encouraged to find ways in these forty days to more deeply receive the gifts of God so that I will ever more surely rely on them when they will be needed most. May this be so for all of us.
For in the end, it is all that matters.
- Does it make sense to you to think of Lent as a time of wilderness of our choosing in which we can prepare for true wilderness which inevitably seems to come to us all? Why or why not?
- What stories of wilderness have you experienced or witnessed in others? Was faith deepened or strengthened in those times? What have you seen or experienced for yourself?
- When in the wilderness have you experienced ‘angels suddenly coming’ to tend you or another? How have you known the presence of God in such times?