Significance of the Wilderness

         If one reads the Bible carefully, he cannot help being impressed by the many references to the wilderness which are to be found in its pages. Many chapters of the Old Testament are occupied with the account of the wanderings of the children of Israel therein. David dwelt there when fleeing from the wrath of Saul. Elijah, after a signal proof of God's omnipotence, listened to the threatenings of Jezebel, and went into the wilderness apparently overwhelmed by the darkness of the immediate outlook. Even our dear Master spent forty days in the wilderness; and since he was the Way-shower, we may reasonably assume that the wilderness experience in some degree awaits each of us at some time or other in our journey from sense to Soul.

         We may therefore helpfully endeavor to gain some understanding of the true significance of "wilderness," in order to reap the full benefits of the experience. In the Glossary to "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (p. 597) our Leader, Mrs. Eddy, defines "wilderness" as follows: "Loneliness; doubt; darkness. Spontaneity of thought and idea; the vestibule in which a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence." A study of this definition throws a very clear light on the various wilderness experiences recorded in the Scriptures.

         Moses, viewing the burning bush as he took his flock "to the backside of the desert," gained a wonderful insight into the indestructibility of the spiritual idea. The recognition of this great fact of being gave him courage, and remained with him as he led the children of Israel out of Egypt. This spiritual insight enabled him to see the whole experience in its true light, even though to the Israelites themselves the wilderness which they had to traverse must often have seemed a place of "loneliness; doubt; darkness." David, when a hunted fugitive in the wilderness, so clearly recognized the divine government that he could spare the life of his enemy, content to leave the issue with God. Elijah, sitting under a juniper tree, weighed down with a mesmeric sense of failure and futility, found in that very place the "spontaneity of thought and idea" which awakened, fed, and strengthened him until he was enabled to come to the mount of God, and to discern God's presence, not in the wind, fire, or earthquake, but in the "still small voice."

         Jesus himself spent forty days in the wilderness, being "tempted of the devil." We read that he was "led up of the spirit into the wilderness." He was therefore, conscious that the divine Spirit was with him to guide him while in "the vestibule in which a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence." In a state of spiritualized consciousness the suggestions of error could find no abiding place. Although Jesus was tempted even as we are, this wilderness was to him so filled with the presence of God that error could only spend itself unavailingly: we are told that "angels came and ministered unto him."

         Every student of Christian Science passes through what may be described as wilderness experiences. Just as the the children of Israel, after their release from the bondage of Egypt and their wonderful passage through the Red Sea, found themselves at once in conditions which forced them to prove their newborn trust in God, so those who are striving to turn from matter to Spirit often find themselves in circumstances in which their understanding of Truth is tried. To material sense these occasions may seem to be "loneliness; doubt; darkness," and if they are not alert, they will find themselves arguing on the side of error and agreeing with its verdict. Such agreement will, however, only prolong these conditions.

         It took the Israelites forty years to make a journey which it is said might have been accomplished in a few weeks — forty years to learn lessons of obedience, courage, and trust; and, like them, the more we listen to the arguments of fear, discouragement, self-pity, and self-justification, the longer we shall remain in the company of these negative thoughts. But the very place where the sense of difficult environment, unhappiness, disease, or loneliness seems to be is really filled with the presence of God; and however loudly or fiercely these conditions may talk to us, if we but separate them completely from Truth and see them simply as temptation, as a mental argument entirely apart from our real selves, we shall hear the "still small voice" above the tumult. Then, as we turn ever more fully to God, we shall find the spontaneity which breaks up the hard crust of selfishness, callousness, and indifference, and which is ever receiving because it is always expecting the continuous inflow of good, not for itself alone, but for humanity as a whole. So we shall learn that these experiences are simply growing times, and that the very place which seemed bereft of all hope or light is really "the vestibule in which a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence." Our Leader has said (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, pp. 149, 150), "Remember, thou canst be brought into no condition, be it ever so severe, where Love has not been before thee and where its tender lesson is not awaiting thee." So we may see that all we ever have to meet in any circumstance is the holy presence of Love; and therefore we can rejoice in this meeting.

         Perhaps, if the way seems difficult, we may, like the Israelites of old, look back to the fleshpots of Egypt regretfully, or long for "the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick" of materiality. In such a case we may be sure that the wellsprings of gratitude are running dry. But one may say that of course he will be grateful when he is healed, or when he finds work, or when he is lifted out of the fear and anxiety that engulf him, but that just at present he does not see anything to be grateful about. Such reasoning starts from an entirely wrong basis and seeks, as it were, to bargain with God. The real reason for gratitude is the great fact that "now are we the sons of God;" and this fact is not altered by any seeming shadow of materiality; neither, having glimpsed this truth, can we turn back to what we know to be false.

         It is our mental attitude towards the wilderness which decides what this experience shall mean to us. So let us follow our Master, and, knowing that we are "led up of the spirit," let us go rejoicingly forward, finding at each step of the way the spiritual watchword which will defeat each specific temptation of error, till in the words of Isaiah we find that "the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. . . . And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men though fools, shall not err therein."


"Significance of the Wilderness" by Dorothy Mary Hutchings
Christian Science Sentinel, March 10, 1928

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