The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 1:1-4 adapted
I met my friend in the wilderness the other night. Well, it wasn’t exactly the wilderness, but it was a bar of sorts, which for me still qualifies as a real and somewhat alarming wilderness, being the good Christian girl I was raised to be. She was late and I sat there in the dim light trying to appear busy on my phone and constructing to-do lists on the white placemat in front of me.
She arrived full of unnecessary apologizes which I quickly brushed aside and we dove in head first. Between us there’s little need for small talk and right there in the middle of that noisy wilderness we each pulled open the layers of our lives and sat back, listening through tears as our hearts talked for awhile.
This is the friend who tells me how her marriage really is, tenuous and struggling, and shares how she slapped her son in a moment of exasperated rage that has melted now into a messy pile of regret. She is the one I can tell how I yelled at my own son, threw a royal tantrum of rage that scared him and me and how we all ended up on the couch in tears trying to figure out how that day could be redeemed.
* * *
I have to admit that I never really liked Maurice Sendak’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. I tend to like books that are warm and pretty, books that affirm my need for a world that’s safe, orderly, and predictable. But, it’s possible that the fact that I don’t particularly like the book is an indication that I do get it, a little bit at least. What I do understand is that Max is struggling with the wilderness, with all that is wild and untamed both inside and outside of himself.
Something about the unrelenting, all-humbling job of parenting leaves me too familiar with this wilderness. If my life were a children’s book, then one might notice a forest of sorts growing in my house most days right around four pm or any other time that happens to be about an hour before my husband is due home and a half-hour before I lose it.
Too often by that point the day is been played out – patience is gone. I’m wresting dinner onto the table while kids are whining, fighting, hanging and swinging off of my legs like the little wild things they are. By then we’re all wearing our wolf suits and if the windows are open the whole neighborhood can hear the roaring, gnashing of teeth and rumpus that ensues.
As a parent, as a human, I’m well acquainted with wilderness and wild things, within and without, but it doesn’t mean I like it.
* * *
It’s significant that the gospel of Mark places the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ right smack in the middle of the wilderness. This gospel has no time for angels, places no stock in genealogies or other such small-talk as a means of introducing the striking, challenging figure of Christ who emerges in the pages that follows. Mark begins like my friend and I do, by peeling back the layers and starting not in the skies full of stars and angel choirs, but on the bare, dusty, rocky ground of the wilderness.
Something about this gives me heart, gives me hope. Something about it resonates with the prophecies of Christ and the prophets who spoke them, those craggy ill-kept men and women who lived on the edges of civilized life and thereby lived and spoke that much closer to the heart of things.
The good news begins in the wilderness. What a challenge, what a hope.
* * *
The friend I met with told me how she’d shared with her counselor that she has few real, close relationships, few relationships where anything beyond the bright cheery small-talk of this season might be appropriate. Her counselor said, “Yes, but what about this Kelly? It seems like you have a real relationship with her, why do you think that is?”
My friend, God bless her, said, “Kelly’s real. I mean, she told me shethrew an apple peel at her children, for goodness sake, so I feel like I can be my real self with her.”
After telling this story she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Why is it so hard to believe that our humanity is what’s most attractive about us?”
* * *
Oh, my friends. How deep and wild is the wilderness within you? Who do you have who’s willing to meet you there?
* * *
This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ – the One who came and dwelt among us, who meets us in the fullness of humanity. Christ, who “sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year” to meet us here, “where the wild things are.”
I’m so grateful for my friend who gave me permission to share from our conversation – she’s one of the flowers in this beautiful field.