First Sunday of Lent
Last year, in one of my many attempts to eat healthier, I gave up sugar, primarily in the form of wine. It wasn’t terribly hard most days, especially when my days were full with work and life. But then Saturday happened. It had been a long week. I had preached that night and we had pizza night afterward. It was a good night but I was tired. I needed to rest and rejuvenate. And as I got in my car, done with the week and ready for my full Sunday off. I thought, “Hmmmm…a glass of red wine would be perfect.” And so I engaged in a familiar debate I have with myself:
“No, you said you weren’t having sugar for the next month and wine is sugar.”
Well, yes, I did say that but well it’s Saturday.”
“Well, it was a long week, I’m tired. I deserve to relax.”
“You can never stick to what you say you are going to do. Every time you say you are going to eat healthy you fail. You aren’t ever going to lose weight.”
And in the midst of that chatter in my mind, suddenly a space opened up and grace centered in. I noticed that one of my favorite songs was playing on the radio and I saw that I was driving into a beautiful sunset. And I heard this quiet calm voice say to me,
“Isn’t this enough?”
And in that moment, I was given a glimpse into the fullness and limits of my life. I had been preoccupied by what I needed and deserved: to relax, to celebrate, to let go. Those preoccupations pulled me from the present moment, the beautiful sunset, the perfect song, the life that dwells within me. Instead of noticing all that I had been given in that moment. I spiraled into a negative, unhelpful dialogue within myself. I saw my weaknesses and beat myself up for them.
Lent has always been a struggle for me exactly for those reasons. It has primarily reminded me of my weakness and is all too good at tempting me to beat myself up. I have been led to believe that Lent is about being strong, committed and good. I am none of these. More than that, I am tired of trying to be strong, committed and good. I just want to relax, preferably with a glass of wine. I think for many of us we think being strong and stoic is part of living out our Christian faith. It is hard not to imagine a strong and stoic Jesus. In the Gospel today, it seems that Jesus always has the perfect quick line to give right back to Satan. This is the problem with having a savior who we proclaim is both divine and human. The divine part is easy to understand but the human part is not. It is just hard to imagine that Jesus truly faced the reality we faced. But that is what we proclaim and believe to be true. When we look at this story, it isn’t necessarily proof of Jesus’ strength in the midst of temptation rather it is a story of vulnerability, of weakness, of struggle, of limitations. It is a story about a young man who was hungry. A young man who had wandered in the desert alone for 40 days after his baptism. A young man who wasn’t quite certain of where to go next. He was not so different than his long ago ancestors, Adam and Eve. Opening his eyes to this world and wondering, where was the truth, where was God, what was he called to do and could he trust that call.
This is the stuff of being human.
Wandering. Seeking. Loneliness. Questions. Jesus walked this same path. He was hungry, not just for food but hungry for all the things humanity hungers for: love, acceptance, power, control. He was hungry just like Adam and Eve were for: knowledge, for security, for completeness. He was hungry just as we are for life, for fulfillment, for peace, for answers. In our lives, especially during these 40 days, we often believe and have sometimes even taught that the hunger within us is bad. This is the thing we are supposed to conquer, to rise above. This isn’t the case The hunger in us is the holy. The hunger in us is the deep knowledge within ourselves that we are the beloved. The hunger in us is the presence of Life itself.
In his book on Zen Buddhism, Opening the Hand of Thought, Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, writes about a similar idea.
“Since desires and cravings are actually a manifestation of the life force, there is no reason to hate them and try to extinguish them. And yet, if we become dragged around by them and chase after them, then our life becomes fogged over. The important point here is not to cause life to be fogged over by thought based on desires or cravings, but to see all thoughts and desires as resting on the foundation of life, to let them be as they are yet not be dragged around by them. It is not a matter of making great effort not to be dragged around by desires. It is just waking up and returning to the reality of life that is essential.”The devil is not in our hunger. God, Life itself is our hunger. The devil is in the foggy space, when we allow ourselves to be pushed and dragged by desires and cravings.Adam and Eve committed no sin by wanting to eat those apples. That desire, that hunger was not a weakness, it was and is the most astounding, beautiful part of humanity. But in the story of Adam and Eve we see ourselves and our most common failure, failing to recognize that the hunger, the craving the seeking within us is for God, the holy, the Life and no apple or glass of wine will ever satiate that hunger.”
In Jesus we see how to be fully human, how to fully live within our hunger. We live in our hunger when time and time again we turn to God, to our beloved Creator. To realize that the craving, the temptation, within us is the most powerful part of us. There in the depths of our stomach God speaks and life dwells. Our turning to God is not primarily because we have failed. Our turning to God is about remembering who we are as beloved, beautiful humans filled with hunger, filled with the holy spark of life. Just before Jesus stepped into the desert, the heavens broke open and said,
“This is my beloved son whom I am well pleased.”
And so tonight, as we step into our own deserts God speaks the same words to each of us,
“You are my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.”
When we hunger, when we crave, when we are tempted we can remember that that feeling in the pit of our stomach and depth of our heart is God’s voice calling us. It is bringing us back time and time again to Life itself. These 40 days are a journey into Life, in the beauty of our humanity and the glory of our beloved Creator. Let us set out with our good, powerful hunger and discover how God can change us and the world with that hunger.
by: Rev. Corein Turbak