I am reading Lauren Winner's "Still: notes on a mid-faith crisis" as part of my Lenten devotions. It seems fitting to read the reflections of someone clearly journeying in the wilderness as a reflection for Lent. My own call process plunged me into the wilderness for over a year so, although Lauren's originating crisis is much different than my most recent wilderness wandering, she speaks from a place I understand, a place I've been.
Today's reading is about the practice of dislocated exegesis - reading the Bible in places other than one's normal reading location. Such as reading in a bank, or a business, or an art museum. The familiar stories and verses sound different when read outside the safe walls of home or church.
Her last example of this practice speaks to my soul. I have to write today to think about it.
Lauren is reading one of Jesus' healing stories in an art museum (page 141). She goes there often mid-day for a few minutes of silence. She reads that Jesus withdrew to a lonely place to pray - which sounds a lot to her like retreating into an art museum for some silence.
And then she begins to wonder- what makes a place lonely. "A place lonely like Jesus?" Something in those words tear at my soul. Jesus as a lonely figure, surrounded by crowds, constantly accompanied by his closest followers and friends. Lonely in a crowd and needing to escape to a place that is empty, still, quiet, in order to let his loneliness room to roam.
I understand how that feels.
It's tiring work, being lonely in a crowd and the lonely ones need space and alone-ness to rest. Of course, I am speaking from my own introverted self. I know how tiring a day of worship services and a potluck can be. How exhausting a full day of pastoral calls is. How draining it is to smile and engage with people, and chat and be social. I can take a little at a time, but I need to go to the quiet place to recharge and rest. I've learned - mostly - to manage this trait, not making all my shut-in visits on the same day, allowing nap time on Sunday, pacing meetings and Bible studies.
"Lonely like Jesus?" I suddenly see those references to Jesus going to a lonely place to pray in a new light. Perhaps Jesus understands my own need to be away from the crowd much better than I ever imagined. And this insight makes me feel somehow closer to my Lord.
But Lauren's last sentence is what fires my imagination. Because she, too, is lonely like Jesus. She ponders: "Maybe I can make my loneliness into an invitation - to Jesus - that he might withdraw into me and pray."
Yes! That's what I need right now. Jesus come into me and pray!
Another gift of this Lent is my re-discovery that Jesus prays for us. In our Lenten round-robin services, I have been the voice of Peter. Peter reflects on Jesus prediction of his denial and offers up surprising words of hope. Surprising, because although I know those word, I've read those words, I've never really comprehended what they mean. Jesus tells Peter that Jesus himself will pray for him (Luke 22:31) in his moment of trial. Wait - Jesus prays for us?! God prays for us!
God prays for me. There's a sudden communion in that moment. I think of Paul telling us that the Holy Spirit at times prays for us with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26).
Even in those times I cannot or do not pray, God prays for me, through my sighs and my silence.
Even in those times when I am lonely, when God feels distant and I am a desert, Jesus withdraws to the lonely place of my soul and prays.