“If you are…” These are the devil’s words to Jesus in this week’s Gospel. “If you are the Son on Man command these stones…If you are the Son of Man throw yourself down…I will give you all this if you worship me…” These words speak to conditional realities, not to truth. It’s the age old trick of the devil. In the Garden of Eden, the devil says “You certainly won’t die. If you eat of the fruit you will become like gods”. Become, as if they are not already.
In the desert, Jesus has been fasting and praying for forty days. He is weak, hungry and vulnerable. Was his mind clear? Most likely it was not. However, he knew his identity beyond the temptation of conditional thinking. He was the Son of Man and he didn’t need to fulfill anyone else’s expectations or even his own deepest desires to prove it. Jesus stayed with the truth of his true identity. The temptation to make bread from stones has implications beyond feeding Jesus’ own hunger or even feeding all the hungry in the world, because it was not the making of bread that was in question; it was the conditional phrase “If you are…” The same with throwing himself off the parapet, Jesus’ safety or God’s care was not in question, but rather Jesus’ identity.
Do these temptations come to us? The world, the society we live in and even our own family systems would suggest that our identity, our very existence is conditional. “If you are…If you want to be…If you will…” How many times do we say these words to ourselves and others. We create conditions where there are none. I think of my own struggle for an identity. For over twenty years, I was Mom. When I entered the monastery, it felt as though I had no identity. In the monastery, I was no one’s mom. I wasn’t sister yet either. I felt lost. This is a small example, but it speaks to how well I have been conditioned to think that being a mother or being a sister identifies me. Ultimately, I am a child of God. My thoughts and actions are not based on motherhood or sisterhood, but on being a child of God. That should be my datum point for my identity.
Contemplative prayer touches the heart of the truth of our identity. It is not about becoming anything. Like Jesus in the desert, I become weak, vulnerable and susceptible to conditional thinking. The practice of Contemplative prayer doesn’t make me better or holy. It merely allows me to be with the one who loves me and to love God in return. No ifs, no conditions, only to be who I truly am and to be with the one who loves me as I am.
Ana Cloughly, OSB