When I was young. one of my most favorite song I played on the guitar was a song called “A Horse with no Name”. “A Horse With No Name” was first sung by the American band, America in 1972 and it was originally titled, “Desert Song.” According to the band the song was a metaphor for escaping the drudgery of everyday life in the city.
The desert, as we experience it today, is the place where, we are stripped of all that normally nourishes and supports us. We are exposed to chaos, raw fear, and demons of every kind. In the desert we are made vulnerable to be overwhelmed by chaos and temptations of every kind. Ironically, because we are so stripped of everything we normally rely on, it can also be a privileged moment for grace. Why? Because all the defense mechanisms, support systems, and distractions that we normally surround ourselves with may also work to keep much of God’s grace at bay.
Thus, deserts have played a prominent part in the spirituality of all religions. Our own scriptures tell us that, before they could enter into the promised land, the Israelites had to first wander in the desert for forty years – letting themselves be led by God, undergoing many trials, and swallowing much impatience. A long period of uprooting and frustration preceded the prosperity of the promised land.
This is also what we hear in the Gospel of today’s 1st Sunday of Lent. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert where he remained there for forty days. In the desert Jesus was confronted by the devil.
The devil tempted Jesus to showcase his power and magically ease himself out of suffering. The devil first tempted Jesus to make bread out of stones to appease his hunger after forty days in the desert. Then the devil tempted Jesus to jump from a pinnacle and rely on angels to break his fall. Finally, the devil tempted Jesus to worship him and forget all about God’s mission in return for all the kingdoms of the world.
As we begin this Lenten season, Jesus invites us to enter the desert. The desert is no longer just a physical, geographical thing. It is that place in the soul where we feel most alone, insubstantial, frightened, and fragile. It is that place where we go to face our demons, feel our smallness and yet be in a special intimacy with God, and prepare ourselves for the promised land. The enemy is not just outside but more importantly inside. The enemy is within us. The biggest battle we wage in this world is the battle to confront the enemy within.
Lent, therefore, is not so much physical, external activities but an inner spiritual struggle where we encounter God. In the desert of our soul we groan for God’s redemption. In the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer “Lead us not into temptation” becomes very real for us as we confront the temptations we have give-in our whole lives. We come face-to-face with our weaknesses and temptations, the tool of the devil. We admit that we are weak and cannot defeat the devil by our own efforts alone but by humbly and trustingly rely on God’s grace.
In these 40 days of the Lenten desert, let us return to our true selves formed in God’s grace. Like St. Paul, we place our lives in God’s grace, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So at the end of Lent we can, in a new freedom, recognise the joyful abundance of Easter’s new life.