Sunday, February 26th. The first Sunday of lent.

A very literal translation of Mark 1:12-13, part of today’s gospel text:

“And immediately the Spirit cast him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by the satan. And he was with the wild animals. And the angels waited on him.”

Mark 1:12-13 from a parchment created by a Cyprian monk in 1305 CE – click to see the whole manuscript

The gospel of Mark is the earliest account of the life of Jesus. The language is simple, almost crude at times. The story of Jesus’ forty day temptation lacks the detail of Matthew and Luke, but there is a compelling power in its economy of words. I do love the strong verb the evangelist uses here. Jesus is “cast out” into the wilderness with the wild beasts and Satan. The verb is the same one used throughout the gospel when Jesus casts demons out of afflicted people.

So Jesus begins his ministry being cast out by the Spirit of God into the domain of wild animals and Satan. His choice or thoughts don’t seem to enter into this equation. God wants him in the wildnerness, so into the wildnerness he will go. When his time there was over, angelic beings were his deacons. (“diakonoun auto,” “deaconed him,” or “waited on him.”)

A contemplative exercise for today:

Recite this text slowly, over and over, for ten minutes. Clear your mind for a minute or two and then allow a random memory to emerge.

My memory:

I remember being at home with Reiley and Shelby in 1995. We were living in “the blue house” as we still call it. It was a small tract home in the neighborhood where we lived when we first came to San Antonio in 1989. Shelby and Lillian were both born while we lived in that house. The event that came to my mind in this exercise took place before Lillian was born.

In the summer of 1994 I purchased two large tubs and put them on the back porch. I would fill the tubs with water and the girls would “swim” in them. Winter came and the tubs sat empty on the back porch. In January, about the time Reiley turned 6, she came out of her room in her swimsuit and announced that she wanted to go swimming in her tub.

“It’s too cold,” I told her. “No it’s not,” she said. We argued back and forth. She refused to be convinced, and I got tired of arguing with her. I decided to let her find out for herself. It was probably in the low 40s with a brisk wind. I went outside and filled her tub up with water from the hose. “Okay, go ahead,” I said. “Have a great time.”

She ran outside onto the porch. Her body stiffened from the shock of the cold. She turned around and saw me watching her through the window with a smile on my face. She was proud and didn’t want to back down. She stuck her hand in the tub and pulled it out again. She looked back at me. I was still smiling and I waved at her. Shelby stood next to me, staring mutely out the window.

Reiley frowned and got a very determined look on her face. She put one leg into the tub. It was about as deep as the middle of her thigh. Then she put the other leg in. We made eye contact. I was enjoying myself greatly. Watching me, she slowly lowered herself into the water. By the time she was chest deep, she could no longer control her facial expression and a looked of pained agony swept over her face.

Then her strong spirit broke. She began to cry, climbed out of the tub, and ran for the door. I let her in and we got her a towel. She cried as I helped her dry off. I think I could tell that her tears were more embarasment and shame over being wrong than pain from the cold. I wondered if my parenting victory had come with quite a price.

After all, her proud and determined spirit was one of the things I loved about her.

Even after all of these years, the memory of the moment when she broke returns to me and I still wonder what happened on that day.

Gordon Atkinson

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