Skip to comments.Forty Days (of Lent) [Devotional/Reflections]
Posted on 02/05/2008 9:01:06 PM PST by Salvation
Other Articles by Sylvia Dorham
Printer Friendly Version
February 5, 2008
The Day Before
Dripping wet, Jesus clambered up the steep bank above the river and dropped down into a twiggy, wooded area. The bushes were thick and grew close together, their sharp spines picking at his wet homespun garment.
He headed for the darkest thicket and slid under the bushes on his belly. The dusty dirt clung to his hair and beard, the powder embedded into the fibers of his clothes. It was tight, squeezed into this cramped space, but he was invisible from the passersby who would follow the sheep track to look for him. He was not in the habit of hiding to avoid people, but, tonight, it was necessary.
Tonight, at sundown, the purification would begin.
Their voices floated down into his bower. He heard as they scrambled out of the Jordan valley and passed his hiding place in favor of the higher ground where they were sure he would have gone. Anna's voice. Megda. Jonas. Moishe. Their names and faces, life histories, all marshaled themselves in his mind. They had never met, but Jesus knew them all. Intimately.
Well, he had met Anna. He had come upon her as she struggled down the opposite bank of the river. She was going to the Baptist, as all the fashionable were doing these days. But she had come for more than a glimpse of the Jordan Wierdo. She did not stand and giggle with her lady-friends behind her hand. She had come to be healed.
Her knee was throbbing wildly as she inched her way down the slick switchbacks to the water. So many people had come, the path had little traction and was excruciating for a chubby woman with a bad knee. People were stepping over her as her pitiably slow descent blocked their progress.
Jesus saw her and loved her. He instantly watched the story of her life play out against the backdrop of his mind. Secret charity to a slave woman. Food surreptitiously 'forgotten' at the Leper's Corner. A drinking husband. A feeble faith growing stronger with passing years.
He had stopped behind her, forcing the impatient crowds around them like a rock protecting an eddy in the middle of a turbulent stream. She looked at him, and he smiled. "I'll take that," he said, touching her knee. Then he turned and was gone, whirling into the current of humanity, come to see one of the public appearances of the Baptist.
From his shelter of spines, he heard her excited voice, it's tempo beating in time with her pain in his knee.
"...and trying to get down that bank! I've never seen anything like the crowd! And no one seems to know who the man was, but I've got to find him! That light! The voice! He looked like a Judahite. Did you see him?"
Her companions had not, and he listened while they and many others passed on behind and above him. They would follow the track for some hours, before turning back, he knew.
This was not a time for company, though. For this, he must be alone, except for his Father, and empty, but for the Holy Spirit.
He turned Pride's urges for honor away.
While the people passed him by, the flies did not, and before the moon was high enough for travel, Jesus had been bitten on every exposed piece of flesh. The sand fleas had joined the mosquitos and he had contributed lavishly to their evening meal.
When the moon was directly overhead, Jesus inched backward out of his hiding place. His joints protested their enforced captivity, and Anna’s knee, “my knee,” he reminded himself, was a constant reminder of his human body’s frailty.
He shook his head at the pleas of Comfort.
Please notify me via FReepmail if you would like to be added to or taken off the Catholic Prayer Ping List.
Printer friendly version has five pages of reflections, thanks. I appreciate what you do.
Thanks Salvation, I am looking forward to this series.
Thanks for the info. This would be great to do with families!
He shook his head at the pleas of Comfort.
"For them, Lord. For the ones you will give to me. I offer you this pain."
He stood and stretched, then shaking some of the dust from his clothes, he climbed up over the rise, across the road, and walked East into the desert.
The growling wakened him.
He squinted into the dark. A faint glow shimmered at the horizon. Still an hour until sunrise. Jesus stood slowly to his feet and stretched. The knee was a little swollen, but he ignored it as he faced Jerusalem and began his morning prayers.
The growling interrupted him again, but this time, with a hand firmly pressed against his abdomen, he refused to be interrupted.
He timed his final praises so the sun peeked over the rim of the world as he sang the final Amen. The whole world smiled with him.
A knowing came into his spirit. A man must work, and a man must drink. The food he would forego for the sake of preparation and purification. For the sake of the work which was finally imminent. He looked around the barren ground, little more catching his eye than several large boulders from under which the reptiles were beginning to creep, straining for the life-giving heat which would bring their bodies back to life from the near hibernation of the cold night.
"Before the sun gets too high," he thought, "before I can no longer do the heavy lifting, this must be started." His words were garbled, spoken through the thickened tongue of a man two days without water. He must drink today, and find enough water to last the Sabbath, when no man must work.
"Is this far enough then, Father? Shall I stay here?"
There was no answer, save a puff of dirt swirling at the base of a boulder. He shook his head at the sudden strong urge to return home with Familiar.
"Until you tell me otherwise, then, I will stay here." He untied his turban and draped it over his head and shoulders, securing it in place with the cord which served as his belt. There was no sense in falling from heat exhaustion, he thought, arranging its folds until his face was in shadow.
Then he surveyed his surroundings. When he had arrived last night just before the sun set, he had curled up in the lee of the largest boulder, hoping for some protection from the sandblasting winds which stripped bare every living thing that ventured into these parts. The boulder looked likely.
Searching around its base, he found a medium-sized stone with a smallish point. He hefted it with the intuitive test of a skilled laborer. He knew by its weight the stone was not shale that would shatter on first impact. This one felt sturdy, and he bent to test it in the rocky ground. The windswept land was hard, and even several firm strikes with the stone barely broke the surface. Jesus sighed. This would be hard going.
He closed his mind to the suggestions of Effortless.
Very deliberately, he scratched a circle into the ground. It was about three cubits in diameter. It would make a good goal. Starting in the northwest quadrant, he knelt and began digging into the dirt.
Progress was very slow, but by noon, he had a round, shallow depression, three cubits across. He stood slowly, his knee complaining loudly. He turned toward Jerusalem and greeted his Father.
Precious water dripped from his forehead, and he licked the sweat as it tumbled toward his mouth. The liquid commodity was too precious to waste out here, even in this salty form.
Having no lunch to consume, he turned his thoughts from the simple meal he knew his mother was preparing somewhere to the West and returned to his work.
His mother. She knew he was going away, but he did not tell her where. She would have wanted to join him. In fact, she probably was fasting, too. He smiled at the thought. She knew he wanted her busy when he asked her to house the young widow while he was gone. The two babies would keep her mind occupied and ensure she put food on the table! He knew Mary would find other ways to fast, though, in union with him.
Two hand spans below the desert surface, the dirt changed. Jesus was grateful, as the heat of the afternoon sun was sapping his already low reserves, making the hole swim before his eyes as he dug.
He scowled at the image of Give Up, squatting on the ground laughing at him.
"For the ones you give me, Father. I'm doing it for them. Help me do your will!" With an effort, he refocused on the dirt in the hole. It was darker, more red, as if the earth's crusty exterior kept its inner beauty hidden from the casual observer.
Jesus fingered the soil. It was heavier. He dug harder.
An hour before sundown, the soil changed again. By now, the hole was a cubit and a half deep, and the dirt moved easily. Filthy and exhausted, Jesus scraped and dug. One moment, he was on his knees, gleaning the soil from the ground, and the next, he realized he was laying on the ground. The hole was deep enough for the angled afternoon sun to cast a shadow into the hole. He watched idly as it fled around the rim, its angle increasing. There was no reason for him to move. The wind sounded far away, and the unexpected shade of the hole relieved the pressure of the heat, if only slightly. He was dying of thirst.
Unable even to commend his soul to God, he slipped into unconsciousness, digging stone still clasped between muddy fingers.
Somewhere in his fever-fogged brain, he knew his body was moving. He felt an uncomfortable sensation. Cold. He was cold. And his body was shaking. Convulsing. He rolled to his hands and knees and trembled as dry-heaves wracked his body. Lips cracking, he gasped and tried to cry out, but his voice had long since passed into desiccated disuse, and the only thing coming from his throat was pain.
He needed dry clothes. He needed the other tunic his mother kept for him. If he could only reach the peg on the wall where it was hanging. He inched forward, trying to reach it, but fell, seizing, to the floor of the pit. His hands and head splashed into the mud, and he heard nothing more.
A bright light was in his eyes. When he discovered his arm and gathered the strength to raise it against the sun, he found something liquid running down it. He moved his hand to his mouth and managed to maneuver a single drop between his swollen, broken lips. Water. Covering the bottom of the hole.
Again, and again, he lifted his hand from his side to find the wet, which he carefully transferred to his blistered mouth. He turned his face from the terrible urges of Glutton to guzzle as much as he could hold.
Something was sliding across his chest. He threw his muscles at the task of lifting his head to look. Through half focused eyes, he saw a snake, smooth and coppery, leaning from his chest to the water which covered the bottom of the pit, a finger nail deep. Precious, life-giving water, seeping up from the ground into the hole as it was seeping into his body, a few precious drops at a time.
Jesus lay still, willing himself into inaction, grateful for his weakened state which made sudden motion impossible. When the viper had drunk its fill, it turned back on itself, forked tongue brushing Jesus' beard as it passed over the lip of the hole and away into the desert.
Jesus slept and woke, dripping water into his mouth each time until in the middle of a cloudy night, he pulled himself to his knees and rolled out of the pit. He sat for a long time, resisting to the urges of Suicide. He then lay and slept again.
In the early dawn, after his prayers, he lay on his belly, like the snake, leaning over the water. Only his lips disturbed the surface of the pool, which had grown deeper. He sniffed. A pungent odor. "Well, even water must have work, or it will stagnate," he thought, and taking up his digging stone, began to cut a trench into the rocky sides of the pool where Vanity encouraged him to stop digging and rest, for his appearance's sake.
Days Ten through Seventeen
What had been slow work the first few days was now excruciating. Every move was an act of the will as muscle broke down, devoured by its own traitor body in a voracious search for protein. He strove against Concession, who encouraged him to give himself the break he deserved.
The ground wavered in front of him, and often he heard the sounds of people. Heaven. His mother. Joseph. When he blinked, they were gone, and he returned to his slow digging.
The boulders under which he had sheltered the first night were arranged in a rough semicircle. The first hole he dug was nearest the large stone, and the second hole, connected by a trench, lay slightly downhill from the first. The other boulders crowded around the third water hole, which filled easily with water after Jesus broke through the hardened top layer of sand, rock and pebble.
Days Eighteen through Twenty-Seven
The wind, ever vigilant, aided the effort, once it realized the pools would not be easily eradicated. It blew across distant farmland and planted several small seeds in the water that germinated and took root in the space of a week. Jesus carefully built the excess soil into berms to protect the little plants, and himself lay near them at night to protect their fragile lives from birds which hopped around the water hole, bringing with them the seeds of the surrounding country in their feces.
When the digging was complete, Jesus took to wading in the topmost pool, deepening it by removing the bottom. The water loosened the soil, and he worked with his hands, pulling wet sand and dirt and with it building walls around the water. One day, a chunk of rock came loose in his hands and he felt the bubble and current of a spring, leaping upward.
Now there were birds, and a mouse, its oversize ears twisting this way and that, searching for danger as it drank. Lizards and snakes, too, came for water and the food it so conveniently attracted.
Jesus pretended Sick-Day was not swinging his feet in the pool, singing.
One morning, Jesus noticed a blush of green on the pool banks and knew the grasses had begun. It was all he could do to keep from stuffing the green into his mouth. Just a taste. Just a little something to calm his brain and soothe his stomach. He turned away.
In his mind's eye was a garden. A lovely, fresh garden, cool with afternoon breezes and shady trees. It was a refuge, a place of joy and meeting with God. Until the day evil entered it.
Jesus surveyed his little wilderness garden. He was weak, and getting weaker still. Soon, the enemy would close in around him and try to make this another Eden. The scene of another Fall.
"My Father," he croaked, "make me strong, for their sakes. For the sakes of those to whom you send me. Bless them where they are right now, Father."
Behind his eyes there came pictures of men. There were thirteen of them, and many more beside, but these were the foundation stones. These were the boulders which would protect the pools. Each one danced before his eyes. A man in a boat. A man collecting coins. A boy. A man sitting under a fig tree. And one hanging by his neck from Despair's finger. They were all there, before his mind's eye. And he loved them.
Days Twenty-Nine through Thirty-Eight
Jesus lay quietly in the shade of the boulder. At his side Activism screamed. Jesus ignored him. Above the rock, the air shimmered with ever-changing light as scorching days became freezing nights and clear mornings. When he woke, he chanted the Psalms and spoke to his Father, listening intently to the still, insistent voice in his Spirit. Activism hated it. Twice a day, Jesus rose, steadying his palsied limbs against the boulder and moved slowly to the water. He drank sparingly, in spite of his body's desperate plea for indulgence.
Always, they were in his Spirit. Faces, voices. The people he would meet, those to whom he would minister. The one who would betray him. Sometimes the mere anticipation of the weight of their pain made him tremble and groan, but each time he set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem.
"I will do your will, Father. Help me do your will." He redoubled his grip on the sanity which his dying body threatened to drive away.
On the Thirty-Ninth day, Jesus could no longer walk. He was propped against the boulder when the water in the second pool overflowed and ran out into the desert.