Meditation Monday – Community in the Wilderness

by Christine Sine
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by Christine Sine

Thank you for being a God who does not wish for us to be alone. We hold close that you are a God who didn’t just feed the five thousand but gave them people to eat with (Cole Arthur Riley Black Liturgies 69)

I love Cole Arthur Riley’s unfamiliar take on this gospel passage, which really caught my attention this week. “God who does not wish us to be alone”  made me think about Jesus’s sojourn  in the desert, one of those times in his life when he seemed so much alone, and yet he was not alone. God provided him with animals as companions and angels to serve him. (Mark 1:13) Yet we rarely mention them.

Interestingly when I looked at images of Jesus in the desert they rarely showed the wild animals, or the angels. It made me aware of how easily we dismiss the importance of non-human companionship. Animals matter in our lives, especially in times of testing. There is nothing quite like the joy of coming home to a pet waiting by the door to greet us. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease stress and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood. The pandemic, when so many acquired animals to help see them through their loneliness reinforced that.

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What about the angels though? In her fascinating book Love of Thousands, Christine Valters Paintner guides us to see the ways all of us are supported by angels. She believes each of us has our own guardian angel who protects the human soul from inner and outer troubles, helps redirect the soul that has gone astray, and supports us in our prayer and connection to God.  Evidently, by the time  Jesus arrived in the world, angels had been an integral part of Jewish belief for a long time. They are often seen as a link between earth and heaven. The early church theologians too would counsel us to call on our guardian angel to help us through challenging moments and so it was not hard for the people of Jesus time to believe that the angels looked after him in the desert, just as they do for any of us walking through desert places.

Today, as I imagine Jesus sitting in the wilderness, struggling with Satanic attack, he is not alone. He is at the centre of a large community. He is surrounded by lions and deer and birds, and even jackals, drawn close to comfort and support him. I see him reach out to caress the soft fur of a lion cub that crawls up onto his lap. A lamb sits at his feet. Here in the desert, in the place of testing we catch a glimpse of God’s coming eternal kingdom where all creation is in accord once more, lying down together with the One who is the caretaker of the new creation. Hope and promise in the midst of community and in the place of testing. We have all experienced it. The angels are there too, strengthening Jesus’ resolve, nourishing him in body and spirit and protecting him from the Evil One.

One thing that Christine Valters Paintner encourages us to do is to connect to our guardian angels, to take time to sit and ask the Sacred Source of All to open our eyes to see our own guardian angels. It is a profound mystical experience. To sense that angelic presence that hovers over each of us at all times is quite amazing.

Next time you find yourself in a desert place, sit and visualize yourself with Jesus in the wilderness, surrounded by the comforting presence of animals and being upheld by the nourishing ministrations of angels. Reach out to your pet, if you have one. Allow the warmth of its presence to draw you into the love of God. Perhaps you would also like to sit quietly and ask your guardian angel to reveal itself. I know this is something many of us are not comfortable with, but for others it is like the greeting of an old friend. Sit with your eyes closed and imagine this protective presence surrounding you. Consider ways that you could continue to attune yourself to this presence as a protector, spirit strengthener and guide.

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