As we advance into Lent, it’s worth a close look at the Bible stories it’s meant to be based on. Lest, just as the ‘Magi’ turn into kings on Christmas cards, and the Massacre of the Innocents gets left out of the Nativity so as not to spoil a pretty, harmless story, we only receive the story of Jesus at second or third hand.
At my induction, I drew attention to a closer reading of the story of the Temptations of Jesus, as given in the early and discreet witness of the Gospel of Mark, 1:13.
As the King James Bible rather quaintly puts it:
13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
Whilst there are many authentic and traditional ways to observe Lent as a time of some sort of discipline, with the aim of being built up spiritually, may I, on the basis of these verses, suggest two further aspects:
Firstly, the companionship of the creatures in the wilderness, which need not be seen as lifeless desert, but rather a domain not dominated by people. The ‘beasts’ are not necessarily ‘beastly’, and the addition in English language of “wild” simply conveys that neither are the creatures in question domesticated. No antagonism is suggested. They are ‘wild’ in the sense of the wild birds you may have been helping through the winter, and may need additionally to care for if they are taken by surprise with a return of cold weather.
Try reading “he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wildlife”
Thus is it not surprising that in previous ages, (in the carvings of the Ruthwell* and Bewcastle high stone crosses, as well as, arguably, St Martin’s Cross on Iona), depictions or stories of Jesus experiencing the fellowship of our covenant partners on this planet have been presented as properly part of the preparation for his ministry of service to all the world.
Maybe this is a time to take care of the ‘wild’ creatures you yourself encounter, providing birdseed, a bug hotel, or some other expression of hospitality and fellowship, as a Lenten discipline, joining Jesus ‘with the wild beasts’. If you’re already doing so, just be happy!
You can find more ideas in the ‘Faith Action for Nature’ material prepared in collaboration with Eco Congregation Scotland and the RSPB
Secondly, and perhaps more shockingly for some, especially anyone feeling exhaustion or discouragement, in the face of slow progress in greening our lives, churches and societies, maybe Lent is a time to remember the pampering of Jesus by the angels away from it all. The refreshment of a walk in the country, and a readiness to receive the kindness and encouragement of others is at least as much a ‘discipline’ as ‘giving something up. What will prepare you for a committed environmental witness? What will sustain the embedding of care for Creation in the spiritual, practical and global issues we share? Who is an angel to you?
Think of it, and grasp it.
Give up being at a loss in Lent.
*The Ruthwell carving carries this wonderful inscription: "IHS XPS iudex aequitatis; bestiae et dracones cognoverunt in deserto salvatorem mundi" – "Jesus Christ: the judge of righteousness: the beasts and dragons recognised in the desert the saviour of the world.
bug hotel: Loch leven RSPB)