Luke 5:16; 6:12 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.
It’s the day we celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national poet, Rabbie Burns, 25th January 2018. The sun is beating down, the recent winds have quietened, the snow has gone (apart from the last few crumbs of ice left over from a very ambitious snowman built in a neighbour’s garden, the scarf and twiggy arms lying forlornly, as though grieving for their master’s demise). So, a lunchtime walk is in order. I headed for the West Fife Cycle Way, a 17 km strip of tarmacadam connecting Dunfermline with Clackmannan, it’s railway origin betrayed by the gentle gradients and straight sections and the aging and crumbling remains of bridges, concrete bunkers and artefacts, and brick, graffiti-covered walls holding back the otherwise rampant terrain and vegetation. Saplings and more established trees in places form arches over the leaf-strewn path, blocking out the sun and transforming the atmosphere into something cavernous and almost sepulchral. The distant gentle roar of a jet engine reminds of the proximity to Edinburgh Airport, but not too intrusively. Closer, an unmuted car exhaust defiantly announces that electric propulsion is not for all. At least not yet. And, because it is lunchtime, the squeals, shouts, and chit-chat of children in a local school distantly join together forming an indistinct cacophony of young life, echoing through the trees. Birdsong is strangely absent apart from the occasional twitter and flutter of wings in the trees. However, it’s early in the year yet; these woods will soon be dominated by the sounds of many warblers. A constant background rumble from the Bluther Burn provides an audible backdrop to my walk, the Burn’s normally benign and silent trickle totally overwhelmed by snow melt, the aqueous clarity now muddied with a grey-green silt, an amalgam of agricultural residues and the dregs of legacy coal mine workings, further upstream.
But on my walk, I’m alone. Just me and Archie, our pet Westie. He’s happy enough, sniffing his way as usual through the undergrowth, bounding his way to the next new smell. My lonely walks are my favourite prayer times. Where I mull over issues, reach out to God for answers, think about the wonders of the world around me and the God Who created all. Where I lift up my friends and family to Him, knowing that He listens to me and answers my prayers. My soul becomes warmed by His presence and encouraged by His closeness, and occasionally a “still, small voice” brings significance.
But my “being alone” cannot compare with the experiences of Jesus, when He went to a lonely place, to a wilderness, to pray. The only sounds He would experience would be the scurries of small animals, perhaps the buzz of insects, or a gust of wind whistling and whining around some buttress of rock. Perhaps a larger animal in the distance stretching its tonsils. Perhaps a flapping from overhead, a bird of prey keenly looking for its next meal. No man-made sounds.
Jesus withdrew from the hubbub of life to pray. And no place better than the wilderness, a place where He could spend time with God, His Father. No pew in a darkened and dusty mausoleum for Jesus. No grabbing a few moments in a corner. He headed off to places where there was no-one else. It probably took Him a significant amount of time to get there because He walked. He also went up mountains – imagine climbing Ben Cleuch in the Ochils to have your Quiet Time. Imagine the anticipation building, knowing that He was going to spend time with the One He loved the most, His Dad.
And what would that divine dialogue have looked like? No “hands together, eyes closed” religiosity I’m sure. No head down, mumbled repetitive prayers using a language more appropriate to the 18th century. This was dynamic stuff. The real deal. I’m sure His arms would have been outstretched to Heaven, reaching out to embrace His Dad. On top of Ben Cleuch there’s a trig point – I’m sure Jesus would have been standing on the top to get even closer. They would have shared those wonderful times when the world was created through Him (John 1:3). There would have been a dialogue we can only dream of. Nothing hurried – all night was ok. And Jesus would have received His Dad’s perspectives on the ministry before Him. Returning from the wilderness, His step would have an additional spring to it, propelling Him towards His next task.
So back to my walk, returning from a brief oasis of being alone. Grateful for a short time of prayer. Refreshed spiritually and physically. No earth-shattering revelations, sadly, but a worthwhile time nevertheless.