There are many wilderness experiences in the Bible. The people of Israel wandering in the wilderness 40 years before entering the Promised Land. The prophet Elijah fleeing to the wilderness to escape the wrath of Queen Jezebel. Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. All of these wilderness experiences are different, but they also have things in common. Wilderness experiences are always times of depravation and discomfort. They are difficult times when comfortable routines and the pleasant things of life are unable to be enjoyed, or are absent altogether.
This idea of wilderness experiences struck me as I thought about our upcoming fall schedule here at Holy Cross. As we move into the month of August, fall planning typically jumps into high gear. Plans for Sunday School, Confirmation, choirs, Adult Forum, and Youth Group are made. Work is begun on the many events that take place in the fall: Sunday School Kick-off, the Backpack Blessing, Pie-on-the-Fly, Labor Day Potluck, and the Block Party. It is a busy and exciting time as we gear up for all the fun events that bring us back together after our summer trips and weekend camp outs. But this year is going to be different.
Instead of the enjoying all of our typical, comfortable fall routines, we will continue to wander in the wilderness as we have these past few months. The depravation and discomfort will continue. And like the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promise Land, I’m pretty sure we will experience our share of grumbling and complaining. Impatience and frustration are always part of a wilderness experience, especially when one doesn’t know when it will be over.
But here's the thing about wilderness experiences, even though they are times of depravation and discomfort, impatience and frustration, grumbling and complaining, they can also be times of profound soul searching and deep spiritual growth. When we find ourselves in new, uncomfortable situations, we often rediscover what is truly most important and what really matters in life.
At this point, no concrete decisions have been made concerning fall programming. My own personal opinion is that we should err of the side of caution and safety. So how would we respond as a congregation if many or most of our typical fall routines and events cannot take place this year? What if we continue worshiping in the parking lot as long as the wether allows? And what if there is no in-person Sunday School, Confirmation, or Adult Forum for a number of months? And what if we cancel Pie-on-the-Fly, the Labor Day Potluck, and the Block Party this year?
If you’re like me, you will be frustrated and disappointed and there will be grumbling and complaining. (By the way, that’s perfectly acceptable. We should mourn the loss of our comfortable routines and enjoyable events.) But along side the frustration and disappointment, the grumbling and complaining, I hope we reflect on what we are really missing, what about those routines and events are truly meaningful, and what parts of them must be retained no matter what. If we then focus on finding new and creative ways of holding onto what is truly meaningful and what deeply matters, we will be better able to let go of our comfortable routines for a time and focus more clearly on what lies at the heart of our faith and our lives as disciples of Jesus.
Wilderness experiences are never easy, but they can be transformative. As we move through this wilderness experience together as the people of God of Holy Cross, may we discover what the people of Israel discovered long ago during their wilderness experience:
“Surely the LORD your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; the LORD knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing."
- Deuteronomy 2:7