The desert is the home of despair. And despair, now, is everywhere. Let us not think that our interior solitude consists in the acceptance of defeat. We cannot escape anything by consenting tacitly to be defeated. Despair is an abyss without bottom. Do not think to close it by consenting to it and trying to forget you have consented.
This then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side. If we cannot face it, we will never find him.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1956), p. 8.
I was struck this year, as I typically am in Mark’s year, by the sparseness of his account of Christ’s temptation. I was also struck by the way the Holy Spirit drives Jesus out into the desert, immediately after his baptism.
Jesus joins us in the place of hunger and temptation, a place fraught with the real risk of despair. (Just as he will soon join us in the place of suffering, death, and shame.)
But, in Scripture, the desert, or wilderness, is also the place of the primitive encounter with God. (Just as the way of the cross is none other than the way of life and peace.) In the wilderness, we can find hope, because that is where Christ himself is found, trampling down death by death, and facing the depths of our despair without for a moment consenting to it.
In Christ, the victory is already won. As we journey in desert places, may we remember him at our side.