This week is the beginning of Lent in Christian traditions. Ash Wednesday began the observance of practices such as simplicity, sacrifice and fasting, in remembrance of Jesus Christ's 40 days in the desert. I wonder, when Jesus went out to the desert to fast and to pray, if he knew how long he would be there and how that time would end. What called him to go to the desert,? And how did he know when to come back? What gave him hope?
Here in Arkansas and across the country it has been freezing cold, sometimes dangerously so, and the nights are long. The pandemic has now been with us for a year, and it is uncertain how and when it will end. For me -- and I suspect for many of us -- Lent, winter and the pandemic seem all entangled. It has been a long hard time, probably the hardest time humanity has collectively experienced in our lifetime.
It's as if God has called all of us to each go alone into the desert to fast and to pray and to discover our deeper calling and ministry.
What if this call to go into the desert is not just individual? What if it is a collective call? What if this is not just about my personal sense of noble purpose or your discernment of your higher calling? What if we are being called to a collective ministry?
Jesus must have had a powerful sense of hope that something good and powerful would emerge from him as his sandaled feet walked into the hot sand of the desert. He must have trusted that there was a reason. He must have had faith. Dostoevsky said, "To live without hope is to cease to live." In Jeremiah 29:11 we read, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
There are many things that bring me hope right now. The first thing is what I see when I look at my garden, all covered in snow. Last week, I saw the first forsythia flower, and I can see the pussy willow buds ready to bloom. Spring is coming, and in a few days the temperature will be 60 degrees. The second thing I see is that people all over the world are organizing for a better post-pandemic world -- you might call it a collective ministry. This future focuses on planetary sustainability and resilience, on social justice, on peace and equitable economics. The third thing is faith in the Creator, that He/She is beneficial, loving and creative, always evolving. These things give me hope.
In these dark, cold days in the middle of a deadly pandemic, what brings you hope? Where is your faith centered? What sacrifices (sacred offerings) are you willing to make for a better future at the end of this collective time in the desert?
Judi Neal is the founding director (retired) of the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the University of Arkansas, and author of many books on workplace spirituality, including "Edgewalkers: People and Organizations that Take Risks, Build Bridges, and Break New Ground."