The voice of the one that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…
A Word of Hope
And so, it begins. Last Tuesday, the staff at our church received the word that our normal way of life and doing ministry were about to drastically change. A dangerous, highly contagious virus was sweeping the land and the most expedient solution in impeding its spread would be to retreat into the surrounding wilderness, away from the hub of our community efforts. The media, medical community, and the politicians are busy creating new definitions, like social distancing, to describe this new agenda. Isolation, however, is not a new idea.
Many of the super-stars of the Bible were experts at isolating. It actually was their normal way of life. The most famous was Jesus, of course, who not only embarked on those 40 days of fasting and prayer that always usher in the Season of Lent, but who also reserved frequent solitary retreats as regular periods of spiritual refreshment. He was in good company in his reclusive practices. The ancient monks called it solitudinarianism. Prophets such as Elijah, Isaiah, and John the Baptist were model reclusives as was the servant Hagar, whose forced desert isolation with her son Ishmael resulted in the birth of a new nation.
A large percentage of our world must feel like Hagar these days. She was excluded from the family unit of Sarah and Abraham through no fault of her own. Sarah, the matriarch of the Hebrew People had made sure Abraham’s son by Hagar would be out of the competition against her own son Isaac as the leader of their people. Sarah must have seemed like a disease to Hagar. But, Hagar conversed with and confronted God; finally establishing Ishmael in his role as the leader of another tribe, the Ishmaelites, still revered as the ancestors of the Muslims today.
Isolation has a number of different effects on individuals. There was a time in his solitude when Elijah propped himself up against an old tree and just prayed for death. Jesus used his wilderness experiences as times of refreshment, renewal, and commitment. Hagar didn’t like it there in the desert, but knew God never lost sight of her and she never gave up.
In which direction will isolation take us? I have no doubt our church will emerge from this experience stronger than ever. Though we may be “socially distanced”, we are still a cohesive community. Our Biblical predecessors didn’t have the advantages of Skype, Zoom, remote access, cell phone videos, YouTube Networks, and the social media. Our survival is imminent, because, Like Hagar, God has not lost sight of us, or of you, either.
In our isolation, we are together in desiring the well being of all. Jesus isolated for 40 days contemplating the same goal. May we discard any feelings of loneliness in favor of the refreshment that can be born in solitude. In our silence, may we hear your voice.
Minister for Children and Families
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare