Among wild beasts

I had an e-mail from a friend two days ago to say his 39-year-old daughter and mother of three, including an 18-month-old baby, had just been diagnosed with a form of cancer that he feared was inoperable. What kind of response can one make? This is the kind of crisis that totally disrupts a life.

Since we cannot escape disruption, the tearing up of our routine in one form or another and since our religions have seen there is also something positive in it, they have devised different ways of programming it into our year. Muslims have Ramadan. Christians have Lent.

Life is going along smoothly and then suddenly we are into a time where there is a new tension in our day. For Muslims it is dramatic, with no food between sunrise and sunset. Christians used to have strict fasting customs for everyone but in recent years the focus has shifted to personal choices about how to ‘disrupt’ my life during Lent.

Only the Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus was ‘with the wild beasts’ in the desert at the beginning of his ministry. What does this mean? Perhaps it is a reference to the raw energy of our planet – powerful and unpredictable. Maybe Mark wants us to know that Jesus too was exposed to these dark forces that can so disrupt our lives.

Cancer, malaria and AIDS, droughts, famines and floods (such as Noah’s) are all examples of such forces. Peace turns to panic in a second. I was once happily swimming in the sea off Durban when I looked back and saw the shore far in the distance. I had been told the current could sweep you out to sea but I hadn’t listened. A moment of panic followed. Fortunately a friend was close by and he shouted encouragement. But it was a bleak moment of terror between normality and disruption, life and death. Lent is intended to produce a tension within us that comes from our own effort of imagination, or, as Ignatius of Loyola says, ‘composition’. Its highlight is to picture the ‘terror’ of Jesus himself in Gethsemane (Mark 14:34). Lent is a serious time when I ‘disrupt’ my life to reflect deeply on my next steps.

At the same time there is a promise firmly embedded in the disruption:it will work out. That is what Easter means. It will be OK, even if I don’t see how. I cannot say this to my friend with his sick daughter. But I can remember that though Jesus was menaced by wild beasts, the prophecy of Isaiah was that ‘the lion will eat hay like the ox and the infant will play over the den of the snake.’ (11:7)

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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