Here's a photo of some brave souls, perhaps they are pilgrims, trudging through the desert Jesus may well have known. It is a fifteen mile stretch of steep ravines and sharp, baked stone. In the ancient world it was believed that the devil and the monsters lived in the desert and so venturing out there was a place of testing. But of course, "desert" is ultimately an inner reality.
It is said of Osama bin Laden that when he was a young boy he and his father would go out into the desert with only a little water and a few figs or dates and sleep on the cold ground - to grow strong inwardly. What sadness that such strengthening would have been so used for evil. Nevertheless - spiritual contest takes place in the desert where one is stripped down, left vulnerable, the masks and former dependencies abandoned, at least temporarily.
Lent is a desert-y time. Father Alexander Schmeman, an Eastern Christian theologian, tells of the cover being pulled down and locked over the piano keyboard during the Lent of his boyhood. What would I feel without all the usual fill-ups, distractions, pleasantries, comforts, securities, go-to behaviors for forty days - a long enough time to realize something new about myself: how soft I am, how entitled, how dependent, how needy, how moody. I might have to confront some monster (or demon) within when it's not business as usual. Young Alexander had to ask, "What do I do with my mind when it's not filled with music and distraction?"
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A final thought. In the Egyptian desert there are monks who with some regularity go out to the edge to write their sins in the sand: "Oh, that new monk from Cairo is so soft from city living." Oh, Brother Cyril doesn't know his way around the kitchen - we're starving from his lousy food." "Oh, Brother Makarios - I can't stand being next to him in chapel and having to listen to his awful voice." "Oh, Brother Stephen is so un-intelligent and without gifts: why did they accept him into this community?" That's how it is in close community.
Anyway, the monk might be out there for some time doodling away in the desert sand, and then he bows to the ground asking for God's mercy, and when he looks up the wind has blown away all the sandy-sins, and the sand is smooth again, and it is time to return to the brothers and to love them and serve them.