THE WILDERNESS AND THE WHISPERER
A LENTEN REFLECTION AND SONG
JONATHAN NOEL, WORSHIP LEADER AT CHURCH OF THE APOSTLES IN RALEIGH
MARCH 28TH, 2017
“‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” – Exodus 7:16 (NIV)
Why the wilderness? Why the desert? Why forty long years? Why not straight to the Promised Land? Could God’s people not worship just as fully with milk and honey on their lips as with manna and rock water? And Lent? Why fasting and abstinence? Why forty long days? Why not move straight into the Great Fifty Days of Easter? Haven’t we been doing all of this long enough? We know the story. Can’t we just skip ahead to the good part?
Maybe our souls need the wilderness. Maybe Lent is our soul’s friend.
I’m reminded of a conversation that takes place between two characters in Nicholas Evan’s best-selling novel, The Horse Whisperer. A little context might help: Pilgrim, a horse, and his young rider, Grace, are victims of a terrible accident involving an eighteen-wheeler. They are left severely injured and traumatized. Many months later, after the horse and rider recover bodily from the event, Pilgrim’s owner, Annie, fears that he must be put down because the trauma has changed him and rendered him uncontrollable. At the critical moment, Annie learns of a “Horse Whisperer,” thousands of miles away, named Tom Booker. She phones him, hoping he might intervene and save Pilgrim’s life:
“…The reason I’m calling is that I understand you help people who’ve got horse problems.”
“No ma’am, I don’t”
There was a silence at the other end. Tom could tell he had thrown her.
“Oh,” she said. “I’m sorry, I—”
“It’s kind of the other way around. I help horses who’ve got people problems.”
What if the same thing could be said of our souls – that our souls, like horses, have people problems? And, what if we allowed our desert wastelands to become more like day spas (or 40-Day Spas) where our souls may recover, at last, from us and know the gentle hush of the only voice truly worth listening to?
King David, in a wilderness of his own, called upon the Soul Whisperer: “Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! ...Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation!’” (Ps. 35:1,3). The Psalmist, well known for his inner monologues, understood that he needed a more believable voice, that of the Lord Himself, to speak directly to his tormented soul. David also knew his own soul well enough to forecast its response: “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his salvation. All my bones will say, ‘O Lord, who is like you…?’” (Ps. 35:9-10)
Now three weeks into Lent, our bodies and our wills may have grown less than enthusiastic or even fed up with fasting. At the same time, maybe we have become soberly aware of our former attempts at soul-quieting with all our chocolate, coffee, social media scrolling, Jimmy Fallon, etc., etc. In any case, may we embrace the temporary wilderness that is the season of Lent. May we allow our souls to enjoy the rest found only in the sufficiency of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Soul Whisperer. As we do so, may it be that our very bones, our whole being, will answer in worship saying, “O Lord, who is like you?” Our souls know the answer: No one.
Jonathan Noël is the Director for Worship Arts at Church Of The Apostles, Raleigh, NC, and currently a graduate student at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. A longtime worship leader and singer-songwriter, his music is available through jonathanandamandanoel.com and bandcamp.com