RSS Feed

Lent 1



“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1

My last job prior to moving to theological college was as Head of the Music department in a large comprehensive school in Macclesfield. We were living at the time in Buxton in North Derbyshire, and my drive to work was, I suspect, one of the most beautiful in the world. I drove up over the Peak District moors, past the highest pub in England, where the views were simply stunning, particularly when the heater was in flower. There were two kinds of days, I found - days when the weather was too beautiful to go to work, and days when the weather was too horrible to go to work, because alongside the great beauty, the road was massively treacherous during bad weather - indeed the police used to close it for up to two months each year due to snow. Those of you who know the Peak District will know that, like many National Parks, it contains areas that can best be understood as wilderness. Wildernesses almost by definition have both that great sense of beauty and also a real sense of danger.

The story of faith has always recognised the importance of ‘going away to a lonely place’. The Old Testament is full of it: Jacob goes to as lonely place where he wrestles with God, Moses frequently goes and sits on the top of a mountain where, amongst other things, he receives the 10 commandments and where he encounters the burning bush, and the prophet Elijah spent a considerable amount of time in retreat in the wilderness in and around Horeb, where he learnt to discern God in the ‘still small voice of calm’.

The opening character in the New Testament, John the Baptist is a wilderness character. Jesus begins his ministry (as we are reminded today) by going into the wilderness for 40 days and nights. During his ministry scripture frequently records Jesus as ‘going away to a lonely place’.

This predilection for the desert, for wilderness places, if anything, intensified within the Early Church, and the monastic movement continues the spirit of this tradition today, with, in most cases, slightly more porous boundaries with our wider society.

Another interesting development for those who seek God in the wilderness, has been the evolving understanding of where the wilderness is. For some the ‘remote and inhospitable place’ is now to be found in the midst of our large cities and urban environments. While at college in West Yorkshire I remember a very powerful day when I did what was called a ‘Retreat on the Street’, which involved being on the streets in the middle of Leeds in silence for a complete day – God was as present there as God was and is on the moors of the Peak District.

So the wilderness might be closer than we realise. I would suggest however that it is even closer that our nearest moor or indeed urban street. The real wilderness that we are called to inhabit is internal. What these external wildernesses do is to put us in touch with our own internal wildernesses, the wildernesses of our souls. This internal wilderness is, like it external counterparts, a place of both great beauty and great danger – it is a place of great adventure. The wilderness of our souls is the ultimate place of encounter, encounter with our darkness and with the light of God.

So how do we access this internal wilderness? Well, one of the answers is very simple – through silence. Silence is frequently the gateway to our own internal wilderness, to our internal place of encounter. But silence isn’t just the gateway to the wilderness, it is the wilderness. Silence is the place of no distractions – it is the place where there are no places or activities to hide in. So often we try to avoid that which is difficult or demanding by keeping busy, by constant activity or noise. Good quality silence does away with all of that. In it our perceptions are heightened, and it is because of this that we become more aware of our present condition, the pain and hurts we carry, all that is unresolved in our lives, all  that needs redemption, and it is this that makes the wilderness a difficult and at times a dangerous place, a place of temptation. This was Jesus’ experience, and it will be ours.

For those of you who have already had experience of using the wilderness of silence and a place of encounter with God, you will know that there is a pain barrier to be gone through. Initially there is a pleasant feeling of quiet and relaxedness, but soon the voices in our heads swing into action

  • this is a bit boring
  • isn’t there something more useful that I could be doing?
  • this isn’t achieving anything

We begin to remember things we have forgotten and start to formulate ToDo lists or shopping lists. These are the temptations of silence, and they are unavoidable. However, for those who persevere, there is the experience of passing through this internal noise and detritus, into something much deeper, much more profound, something much more peaceful. And so it is with our self-encounter - silence offers us nowhere to hide, we are confronted with our pain and brokenness. But a strange thing happens if we persevere with silence – the pain and brokenness doesn’t go away and it doesn’t stop being painful and broken, but it does get placed in a bigger context. Somehow we become able to see our lives in a bigger perspective than usual - our hurts and failures are put into a bigger and wider context and we begin to see possibilities that we were hereto unaware.

So, Lent invites to journey into the wilderness with our Lord. Like him we will find that place a place of wrestling with ourselves and with God. But in that wrestling we shall be blessed; we shall find our lives put into a new context and we will discover new possibilities and perhaps, as Jesus was, find ourselves empowered for ministry and witness in our lives.

Loving God,

look with mercy on your servants

who seek in solitude and silence

refreshment of soul and strengthening for service;

grant them your abundant blessing

in the peace of Christ our Lord.



  • Where are the wilderness places in your life?
  • How can you arrange to spend more time in them?
  • What is there in your life that you try to avoid by keeping busy, that needs to be brought to light and redeemed?
Page last updated: Monday 13th February 2023 10:08 AM
Powered by Church Edit