“Christian tradition teaches that there are times when we, like Jesus, are led into arid soulscapes that bruise and disorient us.”
– John S. Mogabgab, Weavings, 1993

 The phrase “arid soulscapes” jumped off the page for me. First the word “soulscapes”. Each of us has a soul but what is the landscape of the soul? As we turn the calendar on this new year, what is the scene in which our souls dance or languish? And then the word “arid” which can refer to a barren desert climate or a meaningless day or a dreary season of life.

For some, January is that “arid soulscape”. The glitz of Christmas fades and the long winter nights and gray days loom ahead of us for months. Doctors call it “seasonal affective disorder.” In addition, some folks turn to face what they had put off until the new year. A relationship that needs therapy. A lump that you need to see the doctor about. A personal restart that involves some gritty hard work. Spiritually we refer to it as the “dark night of the soul.”

We Christians sometimes lull ourselves into believing that we can escape the arid soulscapes. But the truth is that this Jesus we follow faced them often. We don’t know much about Jesus between his birth in the manger and his entry into public life as a man. We meet him again when he is baptized by John. He comes up out of the water of the river Jordan and is told “you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased”. And then he is plunged into an arid soulscape. For 40 days and 40 nights he is tested and tempted and taunted by the devil. He emerges to love God with amazing boldness and brave love. But that doesn’t prevent him from more pain. At the end of his life, he is mocked and humiliated and tormented and he cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The truth of our faith is that Jesus walks with us through the arid soulscapes. The God of love sustains us when we are bruised and disoriented. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me.” (Psalm 23). And the apostle Paul assures us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8). The Christian faith does not make us teflon, able to avoid all nicks and scratches in this life. Rather it empowers us to love and receive love, even in the midst of the arid soulscapes.