The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him. (Mk 1:12)
In the 26th hexagram of the I Ching, the Chinese wisdom text called the Book of Changes, we read that great power is produced by stillness. From its deep spring of wisdom it also teaches us that when we face what seem intolerable burdens the best response is to be still and thus gradually overcome the pressures of the subtle and mighty ego.
After the Baptism, Jesus did not choose from his ego to go into the desert. Rabbits might vote for Easter but turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. It was the Spirit that drove him there. His ego would have said – you have the endorsement of the Father, the attention of the crowd, now hit the campaign trail. Instead he spent forty days taming the wild beasts. These forces reside in the steely will of the ego. They can use any form – ingratiating or cruel – that suits their purpose have to be confronted in the solitude and stillness of the desert of our heart. But then, faced and integrated, they become angelic forces transmitting the essential goodness of our nature. The ego cannot be overcome by force, only by tough love.
Our essential goodness is the only sure base from which to do what Jesus did next – to ‘proclaim the good news from God’. This is our work in life. But it is hard to believe that the time is not yet ripe when we feel time is running out – the young feel this as much as the old because only children are immortal.
However it is, as always in the realm of the spirit, a choiceless choice. Not to assent to its reality is to repeat the same mistakes even long into old age. To be faithful is to choose the real. Our desert is our meditation.
Laurence Freeman OSB