LENT: Week five, Monday: Desert and Garden
In Scripture, nothing portrays our vulnerability to grace more profoundly than the imagery of the desert and the garden. Here, Eden represents the garden that is both our birthplace and our destiny, our home and our promised land. Humanity’s struggle with addiction is a journey through the wilderness of idolatry where temptations, trials, and deprivations abound, but where God’s grace is always available to guide, protect, empower, and transform us.
The most powerful scriptural metaphor for our journey is the desert sojourn of the Hebrews. God led the people of Israel out of slavery toward the promised land, but their journey took them through great deprivations. In the desert they expressed all the characteristics of addiction and of the addicted personality to a degree that was as agonizing for God and as frustrating for Moses as it was for themselves. They experienced the stress and fear of withdrawal symptoms, long for the old days of slavery. They hoarded more of their manna than they needed, and it rotted. They deceived themselves with idolatry and excuses. They made resolutions to obey God’s commandments, only to apostasize when left to themselves. Their attention was so kidnapped that they became lost in idol worship while surrounded by enemies. They acted in self-centered, narcissistic, manipulative ways, with self-images so eroded that at times they wished they had died in slavery. Yet through it all, God guided the people of Israel, protected them, suffered over them, commanded them, and raged at them, continually inviting and empowering them to choose to trust and to love.
The desert is where battle with attachment takes place. The saga of the desert tells of a journey out of slavery, through the desert, toward the garden that is home. But it is much more than a journey; it is the discovery of the depths of weakness, the power of grace, and the price of both. Moreover, what takes place in the desert is not simply difficult travel and adventurous learning; it is repentance and conversion, the transformation of mixed motivations into purified desire, the greening of desert into garden through the living water of grace. There is no geographic journey here; it all takes place within our hearts. And what happens is not only purgation and purification, but also a loving courtship, a homemaking between the human soul and its creator.
Gerald G. May, in Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions