Deserted places are critical places. They are not always comfortable, although here in Mark Jesus seems to imply that they are. But that would be a grand misreading of Jesus’ words.
Jesus is not just talking about needing some alone time. A sabbatical, of sorts. Taking some time off, some time away. Before we are inclined to reduce Jesus’ invitation to the disciples as, “You need a break” which then turns into some sort of proclamative pablum, like, “every once in a while, we need a rest in our lives and that’s ok,” it is essential to remind ourselves of how and where this Gospel story started.
Beginnings matter. And where Mark begins matters significantly — in the wilderness. In a deserted place. And we forget that at our peril.
This rather random lection could easily be overlooked as just another day in the life of the disciples. Except for this summons to a deserted place in the middle of Jesus’ ministry. There has been no mention of a deserted place since Mark 1:45. It seems it’s about time the disciples remember how this whole thing started and I suspect that is true for us present disciples as well. Because a deserted place is where the Gospel belongs and where the Gospel can be heard once again.
What are those deserted places that make you see, make you hear, make you realize what you didn’t before? On what, or whom, you have to or can rely? The sparseness of Mark’s version of the temptation in the wilderness is that which speaks about such places. All we know is that Jesus is possessed by the Spirit after his baptism and that the angels served him. Maybe that’s the point. Deserted places change your perspective. You see only what’s left, what’s essential. You realize who is left, standing by your side.
The deserted places are often the places we avoid and yet know somewhere deep down they are necessary places, truthful places. They are not just “time to get away” places. They are not just “we all need a break” places. They force us to recognize what’s necessary. What’s absolutely needed. And who will truly be there when everyone else walks away. And so Jesus takes his disciples to a deserted place not for a well-deserved respite, but to teach them what he learned in the wilderness — and what will be essential for them to remember when it comes to their role in bringing about the Kingdom of God.
Because we keep things, institutions, and people close to us that do not belong there or have lost their purpose and usefulness a long time ago. In fact, their proximity, rather than helpful has become harmful. I get it. They are our safety nets. We can’t imagine surviving without them or we feel like we owe them for our own successes.
About a month ago I bought a journal. Now, I am not much of a journaler, this I should know by now. I have tried over the years, from the teenage girl diary with lock and key, to special trips that I thought needed appropriate documentation and reflection.
This journal is called “Letting Go — A Journal” — apt name, of course.
I am still not entirely sure why I bought it at this time in my life. I have a few suspicions, of course. Maybe it’s letting go of the mother I once had, who lives in nursing care for Parkinson’s. Maybe it was the process of moving my dad to a new apartment, watching him letting go of things that at one point in time had meaning, but really only at that time. Like deciding whether or not to keep his first-grade autograph book. “Dear Jack, it was fun when we made paper snowflakes.” “Dear Jack, it was fun when we played on the playground together.” Clearly, the first-grade teacher had coached the students on how to begin their entries.
Or maybe, I bought the journal because this fall I will drive my oldest son out to the state of Washington for college. My son who came nine weeks early into the world at 3 pounds, 10 ounces. And, my son who is so ready, so very ready, to discover what the world, what God, holds for him.
Maybe I should let go of journaling! Ha! But, I am going to try one more time.
And, I am going to try one more time because it seems this is what Jesus is inviting me to do. “Come away with me, so that you can see what needs to be let go. What and who are no longer necessary. Come, Karoline, so that you will recognize who you can truly rely on.”
Because it’s in that space where there is not much, that you start to see how much you really need, whom you really need, and what you really need. You begin to realize that the promises made to Jesus just might be those made to you as well. And you begin to trust once again the words, “You are my beloved child.”