“From early Biblical times to the Middle Ages to the Present, the rugged, isolated beauty of the Judean Desert (Midbar Yehuda) has long attracted those seeking refuge, solitude or spiritual inspiration. According to the Bible, the prophet, Elijah, King David, John the Baptist, and Jesus all spent time here. Herod the Great built two fortresses here, Herodium and Massada, and during the Byzantine period (6th century A.D.), magnificent monasteries were built into its cliffs and rock crevices. Bordered by the Judean Mountains to the West and the Dead Sea to the East, the Desert’s 1,500 km landscape features canyons up to 500 meters deep and cliffs up to 300 meters high. Arid hills and valleys are contrasted with ancient springs that create oases such as Nahal Arugot, Nahal Prat, and Nahal David. It’s no wonder that this breathtaking, harsh and often surprising place has held the attention of so many for so long.” – as posted by Jerusalem the Movie on Facebook, March 8, 2013
Coming across the above picture of the Judean desert got me thinking…
As we walk these forty days of Lent, we remember the forty years that the Jewish people wandered in the desert due to their wandering hearts, as well as Jesus’ own forty days there fasting. As the note with this striking picture attests, the desert has often been a fruitful place for the people of God. Sadly, we need not travel far to find desert times in our lives. This can be so even when we practice “proper disciplines” and actively seek out God. Even in France, Br. Roger often compared the beautiful community, ministry and village of Taize’ to a desert, for no matter where we are, we can feel at times parched and long for the water of God.
I entered such a time once again this past week. Already tired from a new ailment recently diagnosed, I had two members of my congregation die within two days. During that same time, my mother called in tears to let me know my aunt had died. My mother’s melancholy increased as she came to realize she is the last of her generation in our family. My own grief grew as I realized that I couldn’t respond to New England to support her and my cousins due to my illness. Just when I thought I had had enough, I heard more tragic news – a member of my former police department had been shot during a traffic stop.
I remember well how such incidents tear at the heart of the entire police community. In fact while already grieving the present, I found myself thrust back in time to attend to other wounds now reopened. My soul cried out for my friends and the entire agency. I wondered, “Is it someone I knew?” I grieved anew the losses I remembered while serving with the Alexandria Police Department and elsewehere. I felt sad. I felt physically sick. I felt terribly and utterly alone in those moments.
Throughout the day, I prayed. I watched and wandered through my day. Yet, God seemed far away. Words of friends and family didn’t (couldn’t?) fully console me, and I longed for my hidden God. Yet all the while, many long past experiences reminded me of God’s faithfulness. Amidst the darkness, I clung to the light and love experienced in those times and the written promise of the steadfast love of God in scripture like a life preserver.
As the Bible assures us and Martin Luther reminded us, don’t trust our eyes, reason, or feelings. Trust Jesus. Hold onto him trusting that he will prove true to his promise that he holds on to us, guides us, and love us – always. As one of my favorite fictional crime fighters, Cadfael (a medieval monk and Sherlock Holmes rolled into one), was prone to say, “Sleep well, for God is awake.” Yes, even when we haven’t the strength to raise our heads, God looks kindly upon us. Life may still prove hard at times, but God’s love proves everlasting.
Since that day, I have been thinking a lot about my wandering, human heart. I am grateful that the officer shot is recovering. I am grateful for the spouse, family, friends, and congregation that joined me in prayer and waiting. I am thankful for the God who once again reminded me during a time of desert that our wanderings will come to an end, and healing will be ours.
Yet, another officer has been shot in Virginia and died; this time a Virginia State Trooper. Others in my congregation have faced new losses, and because I love them, I suffer with them. Still I hold on and wait, for to whom else can I go? Why should I hide? Instead, I’ll seek to serve, and worship, and love while I wander, for I’m called to live. I will find life within Christ’s community the church. I’ll seek to share hope and life outside of it. This desert time will end, for Jesus has already spoken the words of eternal life. Amidst the savage beauty of our desert wilderness, I trust we’ll discover the wonderous truth that Jesus never lies.
Through Isaiah, we hear God promise that our desert time can only lead to new life. Let’s, together, seek to remember these words as we walk on:
“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know, may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (from Isaiah 41)
Indeed, and the Holy One has created us as well. His hands will never let us go.
This is a trying time for all those in Virginia’s law enforcement community. Please keep all of them and their families in your prayers. If you would like to learn how you can better support law enforcement in your community during times of death and beyond, consider visiting and supporting:
Concerns of Police Survivors
National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund
International Conference of Police Chaplains
or, contact your local police agency to volunteer.
If you would like to help the Laboy family, you can drop off a donation at the Alexandria Police Department, 3600 Wheeler Avenue Alexandria, VA 22304 or send a donation to:
Alexandria Police Association
c/o Peter Laboy
P.O. Box 1228
Alexandria, VA 22313
The Alexandria Police Association has also established a PayPal account for those who wish to give by debit or credit card.
If you wish to make a monetary donation to honor the memory of Trooper Walker, the Walker Family is asking you to make them to the Virginia State Police Association Emergency Relief Fund.
Thanks to Jerusalem the Movie for allowing me to use their photo. They remain in sole control of its use. The movie is due for worldwide release in 2013. Visit their website, follow them on Twitter or Facebook, and be sure to see it when released!
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.
© 2013 The Rev. Louis Florio. All contents not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.