Devotion #3: "Wilderness"

Matthew 3:1-6.  In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

Wilderness.

“What?” I sat in the crowded restaurant as my friend shared her news. I could barely hear her above the eclectic mix of conversations, country music, and clanking glasses. “What?” I repeated again for what seemed like the fiftieth time, my ears straining to listen to her words, my eyes focused on her lips as to try to read them. The noise was entertaining. The noise was fun. But it was also getting in the way of the very reason we had gotten together in the first place. After the third attempt, we moved tables to a side room. Then and only then, did what she was saying make sense. Then and only then, was I able to truly listen.

Sometimes to truly listen, we must change tables. Sometimes when we are listening for something specific-- a message, a direction, an inspiration, even a word from God-- we need to move ourselves to a more vacant place so we can better filter out the everyday noises that obscure what we are trying to hear. We must resist the addiction to fill in spaces of sound and time by switching on the TV, popping in ear buds, reaching for our phone. In Matthew 3, John the Baptist appears on the scene to take our listening further: ‘Repent!’ he proclaims. His voice echoes above the din of expectations, predictions, and competing declarations. The listening of repentance teaches us to be honest about ourselves, to calm the noise of anxieties and recollections and strategies that invade our minds 24 hours a day, and then to put these aside and wait in the quiet, at a new table, where we can hear, and accept, the truth our Lord has been trying to tell us all along.

And it’s the wilderness that often becomes the perfect place to listen.

We don’t like wilderness often because it is too quiet, too uncomfortable, too unpredictable. It’s a place where we are alone with our thoughts and no radio lyrics to drone them out. But wilderness—whether chosen by us or for us—has a unique way of gifting us with a type of restlessness and anguish that can eventually give way to a joyful and intense appreciation of what is around us and who we are. To get there, we must resist the urge to fill our ears for the pursuit of the deep sense of having heard from God.

Are you trying to listen? You may need to change tables.

Are you listening?

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