Hope from the wilderness

This extract from today’s sermon in a Christchurch setting:
We are not living in easy times.  We are somewhat broken and confused and tired and possibly longing for Christmas more for the break that it offers than its message.
But from the wilderness something new emerges – something new and profoundly old – a whisper of God’s re-creation that becomes a shout in the ears of those open to listening.
We people of faith have heard the whispers and shouts, but we have also had some of that clarity muddied by life’s circumstances.  John the Baptist invites us into a renewal of clarity: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’”
I can think of one wilderness experience I have had that left me in a state of seeing things very clearly… (maybe I will talk of this another time) but the following story told by Michael Leunig (in The Lot 2008 p53-63) gives some insight into the kind of experience that enabled John the Baptist (and later Jesus) to see things in a straight way – something that we busy people miss…
Leunig talks of a trip he made many years ago into the Simpson desert in Central Australia and camping out in the night in an old river bed.
“In the dead of night I suddenly awoke from my slumbers, as if aroused by some gentle whisper from another world, and was astonished to find above me a heaven full of stars as I had never seen them before.  It was as though I had stumbled upon a great and spectacular ceremony in the cosmos, a celestial event hitherto unheard of or unrevealed to humanity.
Like the toys that come to life at night when all the world is sleeping, this vast array of stars was in the midst of some fantastic and wild and playful performance – a million fiercely blazing crystals shimmering ecstatically and radiating an exquisite and sacred energy down upon the desert where I lay bedazzled and agape in my swag.  Eternity and the universe hovered naked before my eyes.
Then, from the horizon, with perfect timing, a gigantic meteor appeared and passed slowly and majestically across the heavens, painting a brilliant trail of fire upon the vast silence of the night.
A sudden display of such spectacular beauty humbles the mind and may draw it back to infancy, and I found myself making the sort of mute utterance I had learned as a child whenever a star fell from the sky: I made a wish.
My wish was succinct yet all-encompassing: “I hope everything will be okay.” I said, and having mentally muttered these pathetic little words, I closed my eyes and went instantly to sleep.
The next morning I woke in a blissful state of clarity and perfect peace; my sense of being entirely rested was profound.  Never before or since have I risen with such feelings of wellbeing and refreshment.  Balance, cheerfulness and strength were mine.  The world and all creation beckoned brilliantly, and the country around me; the sandy scrub, the lizard tracks, the air and the distant rocky landforms were ravishingly beautiful and perfectly placed.  As the sun rose, my soul opened like and exotic desert flower.
I have mused on this rapturous and mystical night many times over the years… what was I hoping for out there in the wilderness?”
“To simply hope that everything will be okay is a vague, innocent and slightly funny thing… what had happened, perhaps, was a rare and inspired moment when I was able to produce my most primal and innocent existential utterance.  Not ‘I am’, which is too monumental and static, but ‘I hope’, words translated from unconscious impulse which tell of life’s vibrancy, or, if you like, life on the hop – the movement of life from one moment and one breath to the next.”
“It is said that humanity is losing hope, and if so, the vacuum is most likely being filled by wanting… Perhaps too much wanting actually kills hope, by displacing it, and actually takes life away.
Ambition is a tough guy, but hope is a vulnerable and more spiritual creature… hope is so like an innocent child that it needs to be raised or held onto – and not given up on or lost sight of.  And it’s so delicate that it’s subject to fading or being dashed.  Weariness and fear are known to cripple it.  Amazingly, when it becomes forlorn, the vulnerability, the pathos and aching of the spirit are so enormous that hope becomes all there is – it becomes everything, it becomes God.  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
True hope, then, must be a spontaneous condition of the soul that emerges when the going gets rough – a spiritual antibody that activates in the healthy organism to create resistance against an appalling probability of existence or circumstance…. Real hope, although it is humble and reserved, cannot be domesticated or organised.  We must simply trust that it’s there working away within us and that it always points to the true north.”