18th Wednesday in Ordinary Time
The monastic experience is all there in the first reading. The people sin by complaining against the Lord, and the Lord does not wash his hands of them. Instead, he takes them where they are, calls them to a desert experience, a continuous Lent of forty years, and finally leads them to a second baptism. Their first baptism was when they went through the Red Sea, and the second would be when they crossed the Jordan. In effect, what we have here is something like the first monastic community in the Western world, and it established the pattern for Christian monasticism for all time to come.
It begins with an experience of sin, and the realization that God does not abandon us when we sin. He could have wiped out those who grumbled against him, and made a new start with some other people. Instead, he continued to guide them through his Word, given through Moses, and through the Sacraments of his presence, the pillar and the cloud. At the same time, they needed purification from their sin before they could be worthy to enter the promised land, and the manner of their purification would be such that the earth would be filled with the glory of the Lord, and the desert with monasteries. For forty years the Israelites would live the life of a continuous Lent, and after passing through a second baptism in the Jordan, will celebrate the Passover for the first time in the promised land.
This is not cheap grace, whether for the Israelites or for monks. We might think it better for God to grant an easy forgiveness and move right on to the crossing of the Jordan, but that’s really grumbling under another form. God’s ways are not our ways, and he was not going to cheat humanity of the things that can best be learned in the desert.
One of those things is trust. Life still goes on, under the protection of God. The desert is his, as well as the land flowing with milk and honey. In the desert there are fewer temptations to question the power of God and our need of him than we would find in the promised land or in a hypertechnological society. The desert is a counter-cultural learning experience, and the way of instruction is penitence and contrition and continued hardships.
In this time of constant addictive stimuli from screens and sounds, there is no better place to be still and know there is a God than in the desert of a monastery. Resolve to live like a monk, and your journey through life will be accompanied by a vivid sense that Someone good and powerful is with you, and loves you.