On Thursdays in November we have been walking with the Desert Mothers and Fathers and their desert spirituality. You can read the previous post and who they were and what practices they used in the posts below or by clicking on the links in this sentence.
Ever wonder about the symbolism in the desert and how that environment impacted their faith? Let’s explore desert spirituality today.
“Desert spirituality is a spirituality of struggle, which is inevitable as we seek to know and to journey into ourselves, to face the demons in the depths of our personalities.
It is a struggle with the apparent absence of God and a struggle in the darkness of our own emptiness and insufficiency.”
As a writing I often had to stop as I write the word desert – are there two “S’s” or only one? Then I remember my high school English teacher reminding us that dessert has two since lots of people want dessert, but no one really wants the desert.
What can the desert teach us? I would think God would have tons of lessons there for us since desert land makes up anywhere from 20 to 33 % of the land on earth. This includes the polar regions. The Antarctic Polar Desert covers the continent of Antarctica and has a size of about 5.5 million square miles. Wow, I didn’t know that before.
Must be lessons waiting there for us to discover…
When we were in the Holy Lands last year I was amazed at the vast never-ending landscape of the Judean wilderness where Jesus spent 40 days. (Luke 4: 1-2) The desert provided the nature and nourishment for the Desert Mothers and Fathers. Even Paul after his call spent time away in Arabia (Gal. 1:17). John the Baptist and Elijah did too.
Where is our desert today and what are its lessons? I think the desert to me is intentionally taking time away from the craziness of life, the noise of the world and the ambition of my ego. The desert is where I have no defenses and stand vulnerable relying only on God for my guidance and protection. It is spending deep time with God in longing, loving, silence and letting go.
Ron Rolheiser writes that the desert is the place where we do battle with Satan. Often we flee from desert times and its silence because we don’t like what see/hear/encounter there. But we can face our sins, our demons, our shadow side and emerge stronger knowing God is in charge.
Dedication and Determination of the Desert Mothers and Fathers
To live in the desert requires courage and a drive to give all to God. We are stripped of all of our masks and pretenses. Our independence and reliance only on ourselves.
We long for God. We need God. And God is there with us. The desert becomes a place of encountering God. That thought can be frightening and exhilarating at the same time.
These Desert Mothers and Fathers diligently practiced their faith – regular times of prayer, work, intently listening to God. They taught others and sat at the feet of those wiser than they were. A deep thirst for learning.
“The desert is a way of living, of learning to be fully human, of learning to love. Everyday offers us the possibility of remembering and recognizing the presence of God in us, with us, through us, healing us and making us new.”
Dryness fully describes the desert and desert spirituality. We thirst for a closer relationship with God. I feel some comfort knowing that dryness is part of my faith journey and all who seek this deeper connection with our Creator experiences the dryness of the desert. I am on the right path.
Thomas Merton writes, “We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is only a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God. However the truest solitude is not something outside you… it is an abyss opening up in the center of your soul. And this abyss of interior solitude is a hunger that will never be satisfied with any created thing.”
Only God is the living water that will quench our deepest thirst.
Quiet – Tending the Holy
The desert is quiet. I want to fill up the spaces with something – music, my thoughts, my words either in voice or in pen. That awkward silence is distressing and comforting at the same time.
An explorer in the Antarctic desert wrote – “The Desert: at first you think there’s nothing there, don’t you? And then there is too much.” The deserts are full of life, diverse life once we begin to explore and see it. The lesson here is being open to new ways and adapting new customs in order to live and thrive here.
I will close with another Thomas Merton quote to consider when thinking about desert spirituality:
“The contemplative life must provide an area, a place of liberty, of silence, in which possibilities are allowed to surface and new choices – beyond routine choice – become manifest.
It should create a new experience of time… one’s own time, but not dominated by one’s own ego and its demands.”
I feel like my thoughts are all over as I ponder desert spirituality so I look forward to reading your thoughts and reactions to these words. What do you think? How do you experience desert times? What have you learned there?
Jillian Sims says
the desert is so hard for me when i look around and dont see a way out. Also when we are vulerable and the enemy seems to like to attack us in the desert. Thank you for reminding me that there is more to the desert than the trails. It is an opportunity to encounter God. !!!
Jean Wise says
Being in the dessert is tough, Jillian. Often we see more when we reflect back to that time than when we are in it. One important reason to journal and stay open to all the lessons in life. Thanks for stopping by
Lisa notes says
Pondering the thought that the desert is where I’m vulnerable…much to think about in this very rich post, Jean! Going to have to reread it again! Thanks. 🙂
Jean Wise says
Thanks Lisa. I have really enjoyed and have learned so much of my study of the desert mothers and fathers. You would love the stack of books I have accumulated. Think they will continue to accompany me into 2016. Happy Thanksgiving
Nancy Ruegg says
That polar explorer who said, “At first you think there’s nothing there…and then there’s too much,” reminded me of Disney’s (old!) film about the desert. It highlighted the wonder of the plants and animals that live in a seemingly inhospitable terrain. What a meaningful parallel to the “dry” spirit looking for life. Quiet reflection, a search of the scriptures, a prayerful attitude, and before we know it, we’re astounded at the discoveries, the revelations that God provides–streams in the desert! Thank you, Jean, for your thought-provoking post.
Jean Wise says
I forgot about those old Disney films – great comparison. You know living things that survive and thrive in the desert have to adapt and change too. Another lesson there for us. blessings on your weekend, Nancy
Hi Jean! I think of the desert as a place where everything is stripped away. A place where I have to come face to face with God because He is all there is. Great challenge, but the promise of a great connection too.
The dryness and dust fly in the face of conventional wisdom which says to be happy and fulfilled, we need lots of ‘stuff’. Such a odd fight that goes on in our souls!
Jean Wise says
a place of real vulnerability if we didn’t trust God. Our weakness becomes his strength. hope your weekend is going well. snowing here.
Martha Orlando says
I loved this quote from Merton: “However the truest solitude is not something outside you… it is an abyss opening up in the center of your soul. And this abyss of interior solitude is a hunger that will never be satisfied with any created thing.”
It made me think of the “God-hole” in our hearts that only He can fill, and nothing else will satisfy.
Jean Wise says
I bet Merton and Nouwen are my two most quotes people. Love his wisdom. God hole is a great visual too. I like to think of it as God’s DNA within us too. Thanks, Martha
Matt Philleo says
Right on target, Jean! This idea of the desert and seeking for God in the midst of the dryness is actually how I roll most of the time. This idea of seeking God in the darkness sums up my life and what I’m trying to convey as an artist. I don’t pretend the darkness isn’t there. It’s not a terrible place, because of where and Who it is leading me to. It feels lonely for a time, but there is a sense of expectancy, that if I hold out my arms to God physically, and spiritually, He will answer.
And He does, every time, if I wait on Him. His word becomes the food I eat. I hold onto the the promise of His salvation through Jesus Christ, knowing that He is my only hope, both for this life and the next.
I pray and read His word until the Spirit comes, illuminates the text for my edification, and faith–a gift from God–arises in my heart to take hold of the promises…
“My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” “Seek the Lord until He comes and rains righteousness on you.” “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. My heart trusts in Him and I am helped.”
Keep up the good writing, Jean!
Jean Wise says
Love your comment, Matt. I know as I grow older I rely less and less on the strengths of my younger years – like my independence – as now those traits become hinderances and obstacles to my walk with God. The desert is the place I learn and grow. Blessings on your journey