Desert Experiences

by Padre Canon Baxter Park

Padre Canon Baxter Park
Padre Canon Baxter Park

I must confess as I look around this Anglican Church of Canada, an institution that I love, I sometimes find myself feeling pretty morose about the future.  I may be wrong but the church gives the impression its downsizing. Staff layoffs at our national office and once healthy and viable parishes opting for part-time clergy because of financial challenges are two signs of the times.  Of course, we have the ever-present predictions of our demise as a church.

The secular media in Western Canada recently mused that we Anglicans could disappear in a generation.  There are even some who are living in a self-imposed limbo, claiming to be a part of our worldwide communion, while ignoring our National and Diocesan structures because of their liberalism.  In a time when many question the relevancy of the church, a small civil war, gleefully reported on by the secular media can be very discouraging.

In the midst of all of that I am living a very ‘gray Halifax winter’ and the liturgy is doing little to cheer me up at this time of year.  “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  “Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil.”

Deeper reflection on the Lukan gospel has been very helpful in overcoming my negativity though.  In the three temptations Jesus is tempted by material things (bread), power (earthly authority) and fame and spectacle (throw yourself off the temple).  Jesus responds to all of these temptations with commentary that reminds us that these things are not enough.  He refers us back to the source of all life and all love, God the Creator.  It is only there that we will find, as Jesus did, the source of our hope and an unending joy.

That same hope is visible to us again today.  It can be found in the response of the human spirit to calls for justice and equity.  In the month following the announcement of cutbacks in staff at PWRDF, over one and a half million dollars was raised for the people of Haiti.  Secular organizations might say that’s a lot of bread and we need to redirect some of that to address our organizational deficiencies.  We, Anglicans, will give it all away and be better for it because we trust in God.  That’s not a bad response for people on their death bed.

As for those in self-exile, suspicious of my liberal theology, the poet Edwin Markham wrote my response in his poem, “Outwitted”:

“He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”

I am dust and to dust I shall return, but in the meantime God has given me gifts, abilities and the gospel of reconciliation.  God provides the hope that after the desert experience there will be a wedding in Cana, and after the ashes and cross of Lent there will be the new life of Easter.  That’s why even at the grave my song will be alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .