It’s Funny How Some Distance Makes Everything Look Small (@NedLunn)

Everything seems possible when you’re on holiday in the Highlands. There’s some truth in the overplayed song, ‘Let It Go’,

It’s funny how some distance makes everything look small.

Now, to cover up the fact that I needed to quote Frozen I will try to counteract the shame by proudly recounting the scene from Father Ted when Ted and Dougal are on a caravan holiday and Ted is teaching Dougal the difference between a toy cow and the cows which are “far away”.

Ok, Dougal, one last time; this is small and that is far away.

That makes me feel better!

Back to my point. The remoteness of my location (it takes 30 minutes to get to a shop) and the epic views from the window (four mountains from a panoramic window) remind me of my smallness in the world. The appreciation of how little I can do to any crises that may pop up back at home and work without driving for 8 hours gives me some perspective. Once your mind is freed from the minutiae of ordinary life and your head is lifted from the mundane, your vision can take in the larger issues.

At the same time, however, when you are far from the conveniences of modern day living, you are forced to simplify. This ideal balance straightens out how you see the world and it why I have always loved remote locations, barren wilderness and the taste of the aesthetic; it inspires and energises me. The wilderness sharpens our hearing and we are humbled to rely on God.

The story of God and his people is one of wilderness. From the expulsion of Eden into a wilderness of Nod to the employment of Abraham as the explorer into Canaan, the emigration to Egypt, the exodus, Elijah and finally the exile of the Israelites, the Old Testament is full of deserts. There’s a passage in Scripture which I return to again and again from Hosea,

And now, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to start all over again. I’m taking her back out into the wilderness where we had our first date, and I’ll court her. (Hosea 2:14 (MSG))

It’s probably my fascination with wilderness that encourages me to wade through Isaiah from time to time; not to study it in detail but to take the overview of all sixty-six chapters.

A few years ago Tom Wright encouraged people to come together to read the whole Bible, out loud, continuously in Durham Cathedral. I was studying at Cranmer Hall at the time and so a group of us signed up to read for an hour. We were given a section of Proverbs and we dutifully read chapter after chapter.

At the end of the hour we went to the café and reflected on the experience. My friend and I were struck with the power of reading Scripture uninterrupted and decided we’d like to experience a full book. It was an easy choice as to which book to read in entirety; one of the longer books that never gets read from start to finish… Isaiah.

We chose the evening before a quiet day at college to start to read. We began with Compline and then it began,

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

We read through the night, stopping only to pray. We finally finished at 2.30am and the whole thing was so overwhelming. Removing distractions and the escape routes forces you to dig deep and exist through an experience which opens up a new perspective. Isaiah is a juggernaut book which holds no punches. Aside from a few hopeful glimpses of a future Kingdom blooming in the wilderness, the whole book is the reality of barrenness with no refreshment. What is interesting is that those tastes of hope seem so much more real from that place. The flippancy and sentimentality fades and trust in God who can do all things becomes more tangible.

Everything is possible.

This is the power of Lent with its imagery of wilderness; starting with the reminder that we are all dust and ending on the glorious celebration of the resurrection. This year, I encourage you to enter into Advent with the same attitude. The Early Church had 40 days before Christmas as a time of fasting and repentance before the celebration of the birth of Christ, the Incarnated One.

It has become popular in recent years to fast on social media to encourage a focus on prayer. I have heard of people’s experiences, how it slowed them down, sharpened their hearing of God. It is the modern day exile into the desert.

As we wait for the dawning of a new light of hope at Christmas let us enter into the wilderness with the prophets, particularly the Advent prophet Isaiah, and sit, cut off from comfort and illusory joy, and wait for the deeper reality of hope.

About nedlunn

Ned Lunn is a minister in the Church of England. Before this he ran a theatre company, el mono theatre, for seven years. He now writes on spirituality, philosophy, poetry and arts and is a member of a community called, 'Burning Fences', in York which explores art, spirituality and philosophy. He's married to Sarah and lives in York.