Lent – Finding Freedom in the Desert

by Christine Sine

Over the weekend I read through Thomas Merton’s book Seasons of Celebration an interesting little book that looks at the meaning of the liturgy and the liturgical seasons.  One line in particular stood out for me

…the People (of God) first came into existence when the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt and called out into the desert to be educated in freedom, to learn how to live with no other but God himself” (p13)

I had never thought much about where the children of Israel learnt the principles and practices of God’s new world.  I knew that Moses gave them the Ten Commandments but it had never occurred to me that the whole experience of 40 years in the desert was actually a training session to educate them on how to live in God’s new world with a strong sense of mutual care and concern and with particular concern for the weak and the vulnerable.  It was in the difficult places of the desert, not in the abundance of the promised land that the Hebrews learned what it meant to live by the law of love of God and love of neighbour.  

A Jewish rabbi told me recently that the Hebrew language does not have a word for charity because the idea of care for the marginalized and vulnerable is an integral part of their law and their faith.  

As I thought about this I was reminded of one of the great differences between the Australian and American founding experiences.  Whereas the American continent was lush and green encouraging people to go their own way and carve out a little space for themselves, the Australian continent was harsh and dry.  The European settlers learned very early on that they could only survive if they worked together and looked after each other.  

Adversity encourages mutuality, sharing, generosity and cooperation.  It encourages us to take notice of the weak and vulnerable and hopefully to accept our responsibility to care for them.  It writes the laws of God on our hearts not just on our minds.  Something that we need to think about as we responds to the current recession.  In fact I wonder if as a world society we are entering a season of Lent in which God wants us to be educated into the freedoms of life lived in a covenantal relationship with God.

In From Anxiety and Greed to Milk and Honey a recent article in Sojourner’s magazine Walter Brueggemann reminds us that 

Biblical faith is an invitation away from autonomy to covenantal existence that binds the self to the holy, faithful God and to neighbors who are members in a common economy.

This was the lesson of the 40 years in the wilderness for the children of Israel and it  seems as though there has never been a better time to think about this than now.  What do you think?  What lenten lessons are you learning as a result of this recession that are enabling you to live in a way that is more representative of the kingdom of God culture?

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