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Mark 1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. The word here conveys extreme—almost violent—action. It is the same word you would use to describe a bouncer throwing someone out of the bar.

And here’s the kicker: there is so much action in this verb that it effects the one who is pushing as much as the one who is pushed. The Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, but the Spirit was moved as much as Jesus.

In European stories like Hansel and Gretel, Beauty and the Beast, Red Riding Hood, and a host of others, the the wilderness as a dangerous place. The forest is dark and dangerous. The Puritans believed that the wilderness was the habitat of the devil and wild animals had to be subdued.

The problem is that the Bible does not say that. Jesus was with the wild beasts. He was not battling them. They were partners on this journey. They were his teachers on the vision quest.

This should not come as any surprise. The Creator has a priority for creatures.

In Genesis, God’s word of creation came to animals before humans. When God sent a great flood, God also made a way to save the animals on the ark. In Ezekiel and Revelation we see animals standing before the throne of God, praising the Creator eternally. The birth of Jesus Christ was witnessed first by the animals in the stable. The angels’ first noel came to the shepherds who were watching their animals. Little wonder that the ministry of Jesus Christ started with the animals as well.

In many Native traditions, young people go on vision quest as they prepare for adulthood. The Creator often sends an animal to teach the young warrior some spiritual lesson. Those lessons may show a person’s weakness as well as strengths. For example, a bear spirit is strong and fiercely loyal… but not so good at thoughtful reflection or gentle nurture.

The vision quest helps a young warrior learn her or his gifts to share with the community. It also shows where they need help from others. When every person brings their strengths and weaknesses to the circle, the community is balanced and strong.

That is exactly what happened to Jesus on his vision quest. We do not know what messages the animals shared with him. Perhaps a lion spoke to the Lion of Judah. Perhaps an eagle carried his prayers to the skies. Perhaps a serpent reminded him of the curse he came to break. We do know that Jesus was with the Creator’s wild animals, and that helped him prepare for his life of service to God’s people.

In a healthy church every believer should know their strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. Every child of the Creator has some gift to offer. Every human being has areas where they should not try to serve. We ignore those weaknesses at our peril. We imperil the whole community when we deny our own strengths.

What are your strengths? Where are your weaknesses? What do you offer your community of faith? Where do you need someone to help you? Will you spend this season of Lent in your own vision quest to learn what the Creator says to you?

O Creator, you made all things wise and wonderful—all creatures great and small. In all creation, we two-leggeds seem to be the only ones who lose our way and get confused. Drive us into the wilderness of our hearts so we may learn our place in your sacred circle.