I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
The star of my life is Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all;
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God;
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
Kathleen Thomerson’s 1970 song of commitment, I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light, is so innocent and hopeful on the surface that it is easy to miss the gravity and importance of the sentiment. What does it truly mean to walk as a child of the light? What do we mean when we say we want to follow Jesus? Do we think it is easy, that we already are doing it? When we claim that Jesus is the “star of our life,” would anyone else describe us this way? I wonder.
While I walked the path of Jesus – from Bethlehem to the wilderness desert and through the sacred sites around and within Jerusalem – my Lenten journey was transformed. My imagination and thinking were challenged in creative ways through the place we call “Holy Land.” I reflected on John the Baptizer’s words from the opening verses of Mark’s gospel – “After me comes one who is mightier than I – I baptize with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” I believe myself baptized by this same Holy Spirit. But what does this really mean?
The wilderness in today’s Israel-Palestine is a stark contrast to our day-to-day experience in the United States. It forced me to reflect, “What do I take for granted? What do I expect? What comforts do I demand?” I saw my materialism for what it really is. To be the leader I believe I should be, I want to pray more, intentionally fast more, meditate more, and actively work to build and strengthen my relationship to the God I say is so important. I need to actually give credence to my claim to want to follow Jesus, the star of my life. I cannot allow other things to get in the way. I must say no to the comfortable me, the modernized me, the compromised me. I need to align my lived actions to my articulated values. I need to seek integrity – that what I do matches what I say, and vice versa. Wilderness time makes me think this way – in the desert I am much less self-reliant, and by giving up having to be in charge, I am much more ready to be who God calls me to be.
I am talking about discovering the true heart of humility – less of me and more of God. My own wants, needs, hopes, and desires are important, but they are less important than knowing and doing the will of God. Too many things get in the way of deep contemplation and discernment, thus preventing me from giving proper attention to God’s will. Desert time is the remedy for this. In the wilderness, we have so few resources to draw from. In the rocky, dry, sandy hills and mountains, a person is stripped of all creature comforts and support. It is easy to see why desert fathers and mothers spent so much time in prayer and devotion – and fasting.
As a member of the Board of Bread for the World, I regularly observed the discipline of fasting. On the 21st of every month, board members join together in a fast, and give their focus to spiritual discipline. Beyond an act of devotion to God, fasting is an act of solidarity with the poor and hungry in our world. We too often take for granted a full stomach, a delicious meal, and the means to provide for self and family. We do not regularly experience true hunger, and even when we do, we have assurance that it is a temporary and easily remedied discomfort. But with regular fasting comes enlightenment and an awareness that food is a large justice issue in our world. For those who have all that we could need and want, it is essential that we become mindful of those who suffer not only lack, but the means to change their daily struggle for enough simply to live. We should become advocates for the poor and hungry in our world. And don’t just think of poor underdeveloped countries – the hungry and malnourished live in all of our cities, towns, villages, and states. In the most resource rich country in the world, millions go to bed hungry every night.
Lent will soon be coming to an end with the celebration of another Easter resurrection. This is good. But not if it allows us to leave the wilderness behind and get back to “normal.” My prayer is that we can all walk the Jesus walk where we will all be reshaped, reformed, and refocused by the wilderness time of Lent. And as we enter the desert of other people’s lives, may we become a source of living water that can refresh and bring new life to those in need. May God work a transformation miracle in each one of us. Glory to God!
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).