Lent 2023: Monday Lent Week One

At first the desert explorer does not even notice that there are other people around him, like himself a little lonely, trying to embrace solitude.

He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. (Mt 25: 32)

We were driving through the Canadian Rockies when this photo happened. I was more interested in seeing grizzlies than goats as we came upon this one separated from his flock, perhaps with a death wish and grazing on concrete.

There are different kinds of desert. Sand dunes, water stretching everywhere, dense trees confusing your sense of direction, libraries of endless words and crowded subway trains of people looking at their mobile phones, distracted minds and empty roads through mountain ranges. The common elements of a desert experience can be found in all these forms – and of course in meditation. They include an initial feeling of remoteness and separation that you have to embrace in order to let it become true solitude. There is no solitude at first without some degree of loneliness, but solitude becomes the cure for loneliness. Loneliness is just the scar of separation while solitude is the healing restoration of companionship.

The goat trying to eat concrete or, more likely, something edible that an unmindful driver had thrown out of the window, did not seem lonely. Quite unaware of us looking at him for the photo, he seemed contentedly solitary. This might mean (if it applies to goats as well as us) that he had found the Friend within himself. He didn’t look up and wonder if we were what he was looking for because he wasn’t looking for anything. Even for the truck that might have come tearing round the bend at any moment. Goats are more independent than sheep and so are often considered to be more self-centred which may explain why they became symbols of evil. The devil is often represented as a nasty looking goat.

Anyway, it’s only a parable and probably Jesus didn’t have much against goats personally. However, goats do seem smarter than sheep, especially if you just like them, although looking at this one, eating the road on a dangerous bend made me wonder. Even in the form of an empty mountain road, the desert welcomes everyone. By leading us into the desert of the heart, meditation creates and repairs community and bestows the blessed awareness of equality. 

At first the desert explorer does not even notice that there are other people around him, like himself a little lonely, trying to embrace solitude. Even when he does, he can still judge them on appearances alone. He may then start to put sheep on his right and goats on the left, thinking he is justified in separating and judging others because Jesus did so.

Transformation comes when we fully understand and humbly accept that we really are in the desert and permit ourselves to feel at home. At that point we stop looking for what isn’t there. Life becomes simpler and more liveable, the more we see only what is there. 

Then the day of judgement is over and sheep and goats are no longer sent to the right and the left. Instead, they look into each other’s eyes and see themselves reflected there: the good, the bad and the ugly, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the imprisoned and the free, those with golden lives and beautiful dinner services and those who have always eaten off paper plates, if they have eaten at all.

  • Related Posts
Scroll to Top