I was surprised (and pleased) to see that the second study in our Lent Group resource was entitled "In the Wilderness". I would not expect a discussion of wilderness to feature in a series called "Repairing the Breach", so this is a reflection to work out why. Perhaps wilderness is the metaphorical place between conflict and resolution. In the exodus story, wilderness comes between slavery and freedom, exile and home-coming, debt and inheritance. But there the function of wilderness is more about punishment and probation (1 Cor 10:5; Heb 3:7-11). In our experience of wilderness, other purposes and effects come into play.
For Jesus, his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness came between obscurity and fame, preparation and mission. For John Baptist, wilderness was his whole context and experience. There is no record of him ever entering a town; the people went out to the wilderness to see him, and there he contended with them and demanded their repentance! (Matt 3:1-6) But Jesus—as God with us and among us—entered our urban lives, retreating to the wilderness only as needed for prayer and rest (Matt 14:13, 23). Do we do this? Perhaps we should. Our 'nature fix' can also be our 'prayer fix', a time to reflect and refocus.
But back to conflict and resolution. Wilderness also describes the place we find ourselves in as a result of conflict and trauma. We may lose an important relationship or a familiar group or employment; we may be evicted, shunned, and forgotten. Or we may flee into isolation, physical or social, to escape chaos and protect ourselves from further abuse. Fasting in the wilderness is a given, really; there are no feasts, family, and friends out there. The sun burns, the silence yawns, and sand blows in our eyes. For the sake of healing and insight, we choose to do without our social supports, familiar routines, and pleasant distractions. We are deeply wounded; grieving, raging, questioning. How long do we stay there? Do we ever come back or do we go somewhere else?
Some people return (or relocate) of their own accord; some have to be invited— whether back to their first 'home' or a new one—and otherwise may stay away indefinitely. If you know someone in the wilderness who might be ready to re-engage with family, friends, or church but won't take that decision (it can take a very long time!), be a shepherd for them (Luke 15:4). Take care to recognise their pain and anger, affirm their healing, and respect their preferences (don't be rigid in your plan). But the greatest care you can give is in just taking that journey into their wilderness to find them. The farther you have to go the greater the compliment you give. Sometimes repairing the breach requires a personal touch, an earnest plea, the offer to walk together back into life and love, wherever that may be.
This version of Mendelssohn's "O For the Wings of a Dove" is my favorite, because as a mature singer Kiri te Kanawa conveys (as no youth choir can) the agony and chaos that leads to the wilderness flight. The "dove" section of David's psalm starts from 5:20 min.
Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked. For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me. My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, "O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; [Selah] I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest." (Psa 55:2-8)