We attended the services at St. Paul’s church Sunday (3/6/11). The texts were about Moses entering the cloud on the mountain to meet God (Exodus 24:12-18); St. Peter reminding the reader of his letter, that he and the other apostles were eye witnesses of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection (2 Peter 1:16-21); and, Jesus’ transfiguration with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1 – 9). The minister spoke about the transition from the weeks after Epiphany to the Lenten season. One period of the annual church calendar reminding us of our recognition of Jesus and the other our preparation for change (transformation) over the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness.
As with any good sermon, or lecture, or discussion, my mind wanders from what is said to what I interpret. The span of 40 periods of time caught my attention. How often has 40 figured into transformation experiences in the biblical texts: 40 days of rain to cleans the earth of the evil which Adam and his descendants brought (does not take so many generations for people to muck things up); 40 years of wandering for Moses and the Israelites between Egypt and the Promised Land; 40 days for Moses to be in the clouds on the mountain before God laid out the plans for the Tabernacle, etc.; 40 days for Jesus to be in the wilderness before entering Jerusalem; 40 days of Lent.
I pondered our own wilderness and wandering experiences. The cycles of the ancients may touch on our own lives (though I do not think that you have spend time in a sweat lodge in Sodona, AZ). The Vicar can clarify the theology here, but I suspect that his 40 was course credits at BSU. I think my 40 shall be in years, of which I have not spent about 30 of them. I’ll check back with you in 2021.
Part of the Lenten tradition is to give up something precious, according to each one’s desires. I did not become much aware of this until I moved the East Coast and affiliated with Christians of the Catholic tradition. I found giving up chocolate or sweets rather trivial. Maybe that came from my Baptist origins, which specialize in self-deprivation year-round. I used to bait them by suggesting they give up God for 40 days.
But here is a serious thought. What would 40 days without God be like, if God is truly what one holds as most precious? I think that this would not be hedonism, as Fat Tuesday is probably about as much of that which most people would want (unless you are Charlie Shean, who got the boot from his TV sitcom which seemed to glorify what he was fired for recently). I think that 6 weeks without God, for most believers, would be desolation. You might as well be Camus wandering the beach for no particular reason, or Sarte with “No Exit”, or maybe the unredeemed Johnny Cash in “Folsom Prison” (“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him bleed…”). Well, I best stop here before we get to bluegrass music lyrics… By whatever process you pursue, may your transformation process bring out better qualities.