In the Wilderness (Advent Book Club 15 Dec)

(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. Some days there will just be a simple tweet; other times a blog post for longer thoughts.)

“Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.”  (Isaiah 40:4)

I’m not sure that I’m saying much in this post that Maggi Dawn hasn’t already said (much better) in her comments; my thoughts are just written in a slightly different order, and once again from the perspective of chronic illness – so if you’re bored with this, you can stop reading now.

Maggi writes of her initial difficulty in seeing the beauty of the flat landscape of the Fens after the mountains of the Peak District. When illness strikes, there is often a similar contrast in our lives: days of varying and interesting activity give way to days that are the same, when nothing much happens. And when the illness becomes chronic, this goes on and on, and seems to never end.

The most exciting thing to happen to us seems completely trivial to someone else. I love the little snippets in Nasim Marie Jafry’s “The State of Me”, where the narrator Helen imagines having interviews about her life; for example:

stranger: What did you do today?
me: I made cheese scones and put a dead bee in the bin.

But it is in these landscapes that we have the chance to see things differently: for Maggi Dawn in the Fens it was the sky, unobstructed by hills, and the quality of the light. In the sameness of days with chronic illness we can learn to appreciate both the little things (making scones as the highlight of the day), and also the depth of “ordinary” things: perhaps close relationships with family members, or the blessings of friendship. Most of all, it can be an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God.

For, as Isaiah says, it is “in the wilderness” that we are to “prepare the way of the Lord” – whether the wilderness is the bleakness of a flat landscape, the dryness of the desert, the confusion of forest or jungle where we may easily become lost, or the ‘concrete jungle’ of our cities that can feel soulless and leave us isolated. Wherever we are, and in perhaps the difficulties of wherever we are, that is where we need to prepare the way of the Lord.

And what a Lord!  A mighty warrior who takes time to take lambs to safety; a dispenser of justice who gives rewards.  Or put it the other way round: a gentle, loving shepherd who will fight tooth and nail to defend his sheep; an indulgent parent who nevertheless stamps down hard on wrongdoing.

In a bleak wilderness we can appreciate all the varying qualities of light; in the wilderness of our souls, however this comes about, let us learn to appreciate all the varying qualities of our God.

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