The Wilderness is the Way
It feels apocalyptic right now. A worldwide pandemic, a potential break-down in food distribution systems, cataclysmic weather patterns, violence, economic struggles, and now something no one expected, killer hornets! It’s enough to make us go crazy. That is, if we didn’t already have a story to guide us through. A story that tells us there is not only a way in the wilderness, but the wilderness is the way.
“Stories hold the world together,” as storyteller Michael Meade has said. There’s a wonderful story hidden in the Bible that can help us find our way through these chaotic and uncertain times, a story of the woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet. She wears a crown on her head of twelve stars and she represents the people of God, the goodness of creation itself. We come across her in chapter twelve in one of the books most of us have spent our lives avoiding, Revelation. She appears on the scene just as a war is breaking out in heaven, giving birth to something new while fighting off evil in the form of the world’s most powerful dragon. He was so powerful, in fact, that he had seven heads and he swept a third of the stars from heaven with his tail.
Just as she gives birth to a son who is to be a great leader for the nations, the dragon tries to devour her baby. But God saves him, and gives her the wings of an eagle to fly off into the wilderness to be nourished there, for a time and times and half a time, as the story goes. This is when the dragon gets really angry and declares war on the world. But the woman watches from the wilderness, where she is strengthened and nurtured by God. While God and all God’s angels fight the war in heaven, eventually defeating the dragon forever, the death of evil.
She is nourished in the wilderness, and so are we. This motif is in many stories in the Bible. The way is made clear, not in the heat of battle, but in the forced retreat to the wilderness. None of us go there willingly, or so the story goes. Hagar is banished to the wilderness and finds the way, led by God. The Israelites escape to the wilderness and find a whole new future. Jesus is forced into the wilderness by the Spirit and finds the strength to carry out his mission there. We are tested in the wilderness, but it is also the place we are taken to be nourished, nurtured and learn to depend on a power greater than ourselves. It’s the place where we let go and learn to trust in God who shows us that there is not only a way in the wilderness, but the wilderness is the Way.
It feels like we are all on a very long wilderness journey, thanks to COVID19. The days are long without much direction, we are anxious about how our needs will be met and often wondering what to do next. We need a story to guide us, to hold us together, to tell us who we are, to ground us in something bigger than the evidence of the day. The woman clothed with the sun steps into this dark book of revelation and into the darkness of our world, and reveals something new. This something new can be a navigation point for all of us as we try to figure out what to do with each day’s chaos. God is doing a new thing, even and especially in the wilderness, in the uncertainty of our days, in the chaos of our world.
We may feel like we are at the end of a story, but the woman clothed with the sun shows us it just may be a new beginning. This feeling that we are doomed and that chaos is the only thing that rules the day is actually a trick the seven headed dragon, and the chaos monsters of our world, play upon us. The darkness of chaos is always trying to convince us that the world is full of doom and gloom and that our best days are behind us. But the woman clothed with the sun tells us, “don’t fall for it.” Resist and wait, resist and pray. God will surely come and give you rest, nurture and a way forward. Giving you the uplift of eagle’s wings just when you need it the most.
The seven headed dragon would have you believe that chaos is in control, it exists to create the chaos of uncertainty in the world. But it also feeds off of our lack of faith, our fear. Revelation tells us that God wins the war in heaven and it’s the death of evil, forever. It’s a scenario that plays out a million times a day, all over the world. Though the dragon takes its bite, love always wins. Love is the most powerful force in the universe.
This story shows us that God walks through the dark hills of our lives, too, lifting us up when we have no more strength to fight. Saving the evidence that we have created out of goodness. God gives us rest and nurture, even in the middle of the fight. God not only makes a way in the wilderness, the wilderness becomes the way itself – to new life, new creation and the experience of God’s love invading the world.
Trust that God will meet you when you face the chaos monsters of your days, and give you what you need to find rest, renewal and peace. God will even fight the battle for you, when you are ready to let go.