Entering the wasteland

Reflection on First Sunday of Lent (March 5)

By Donna Brett

The readings for this Sunday:
Genesis 9:8-15
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:12-15

The full text of the readings can be found here.

I recently witnessed firsthand the powerful destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Most of the population have been uprooted, with their homes and businesses destroyed; 1100 are dead and almost 2000 are still missing. The floodwaters receded months ago leaving block after block, mile after mile, of hauntingly empty homes, schools and streets, where once there were neighbors chatting, children shouting and laughing, and traffic bustling about. Gone are the animals, not only the pets, but the squirrels and the songbirds; gone too are the flowering magnolias, crepe myrtles, and azaleas. New Orleans has become an eerily quiet wasteland.

Is this what Noah saw when the floodwaters receded from the land--a lifeless desert created, ironically, by water? Was God stirred by Noah's feelings of helplessness and despair at the sight of the desolation to send the rainbow as a symbol that there could be a future of promise and life for the people? Does God still inspire our world with hope?

I did not see a rainbow during the ten days I was in New Orleans, but I did see a small patch of richly hued petunias growing incongruously in the sludge of what had once been a garden surrounding my sister's home, not far from the breach in the 17th Street Canal.

And I did see volunteers of every denomination and no denomination who have been inspired to come from around the country to help with the cleanup. And I heard that Tulane University has made community work a mandatory requirement for graduation. And I know that many New Orleanians are tapping into their reserves of spirit and strength to face the long future of rebuilding. They have chosen a slogan: "Recover, Rebuild--Rebirth"; and they've chosen an image to represent that rebirth...appropriately enough, a flowering symbol of the city's French origins and of life itself: the fleur de lis.

As we begin the season of Lent, we are called, like Noah and Jesus, to enter the wasteland. For some today this summons is more literal than figurative. Will we be tempted there to see only death and destruction? Or will we be inspired, as Jesus was, by a vision of the kingdom of God close at hand? Will we allow God's grace to work within us so that we can take part in building the City of God? We can be God's sign of hope in a world overwhelmed by disasters -- both of natural and human origin. Reminders of God's Covenant with Noah do still abound -- sometimes in the form of a rainbow or a clutch of petunias... or perhaps in the form of college students helping to rebuild a drowned city.