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Deserts in our Spiritual Journey

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

“The desert is the theater of the human struggle of searching for God.” (Jan Majernik)

“How long, O God? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day? How long shall my enemies triumph over me? look upon me and answer me, O God, my God, give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death, lest my enemies say they have prevailed over me, and my foes rejoice that I have fallen. But I put my trust in your mercy, my heart is joyful because of your saving help. I will sing to you,, O God, for you have dealt with me richly; I will praise your name, O Most High. (psalm 13)”

There are times in our spiritual journeys when we feel the cry “O Lord, my God, O Lord, my God, why do you seem so far from me, O Lord, my God.”(Common Praise hymn 579) And there are times when something within us seems to resonate with Jesus words “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place”  a place of solitude, stillness, a lonely place”. In both times it is an inner journey of the heart, that inner journey of abandonment, of stripping away, a place of encounter and discovery, of identity and vocation, of testing and preparation of heart for the life God has for us.

I was reminded when beginning to ponder this reflection of the book “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint Exupery. It is an honest and beautiful story about loneliness, friendship, sadness and love. Perhaps one of the quotes from that book that has remained with me and has contributed most to my own spiritual life is the comment that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly: what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

It is in the seeming indifference of the desert – that we can discover a healing power. It is a locus of encounter with the holy, for that deep unknowability of God, for the stillness, silence and emptiness in which a meeting with ourselves and God becomes possible. it is in our desert experiences that we can experience a growing awareness of our hunger for depth and meaning, for that meaningful social and political engagement with ourselves and others that will require a of radical self-honesty and transparency of heart.

For me, throughout my spiritual journey, a desert experience has been an inner journey of the heart, a place that often confronts me with the question “why go” – why go into solitude and silence. Why go into a place where I know there will be a struggle, change and transformation as I face some of the troubling questions I face, we all face, in our lives today? It is a place where we struggle with the demons in our own lives. I go because I know the hard work is part of the healing power that is involved in my longing for an encounter with God at a deeper level. I go because I long for have a heart capable of holding everyone and everything in a wide and deep embrace of love.

I know that when I wear myself out with noise, when I am distracted, when I feel that it is impossible to hear myself think, that it is a call to slow down into silence where my soul can have a change to catch up with my body. When I am in a place where: “How long, O God? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day? – “O Lord, my God, O Lord, my God, why do you seem so far from me, O Lord, my God” that I am on a journey into the desert, into that place where I need to struggle and wrestle with myself and God in order to become more and more immersed in the presence of God. It doesn’t just happen, we have to work at it! We have to take responsibility for making it happen! I know I need regular times of solitude and silence to comfort, heal, and restore myself – to become fresh and new and quieted.

  • It is in the desert that I begin to understand how important relationship are, how we need each other, how solitude and silence are the gifts that create and restore and heal community.
  • It is in the desert that I discover that answers are not just handed to us, and that questions are more important than answers.
  • It is in the desert that I know that the everyday hurdles and obstacles of life, if left unchecked can choke and crush a person
  • It is in the desert that a change in perspective means learning new things, and how painful some lessons can be
  • It is in the desert that like the Little Prince in Exupery’s book I learn over and over again that “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes … it is the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important … you become responsible for what you’ve tamed (to establish ties with). You’re responsible for your rose.”
  • It is in the desert that we can discover that all life is sacred, and that we can discover God in every moment
  • It is in the desert that I discover what Thomas Merton wrote in his book “Wisdom of the Desert”: “there are only three stages to this work (to commitment: to be a beginner, to be more of a beginner, and to be only a beginner.” We are always beginners, and we can always in humility and compassion begin again.
  • It is in the desert, that place of deep encounter that is not of superficial escape, that we are stripped down to the essentials, that we must let go of all our securities, and that we will be transformed, from glory to glory!

And what makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well. There are springs of living water waiting, tears that make the desert blossom!