The Desert

On a recent trip I drove through desert in Nevada and southern California, including the Mojave Desert.  An unfamiliar landscape, it appeared dry and barren, especially compared to the lush green of an eastern spring in which there has been plenty of rain.  Disconcerting and maybe even dull at first, this vast space of flat land surrounded by high and rugged mountains, with undulating sands in some areas and big boulders in others, gradually revealed its beauty. Each cactus, shrub, or patch of grass had its own place and was easily appreciated one bit at a time—a stark contrast with North Carolina weeds, grass, flowers, shrubs, and trees all in the same area.

After the time in the desert it occurs to me that my life at home is more like the eastern landscape in which I live, with an abundance of activities, relationships, responsibilities, and riches. So many that I can easily go from one thing to the next to the next, with no space in between.  What would life look like with the spaciousness of the desert?

While there I did one thing at a time.  I was truly present in the moment.  I wasn’t overwhelmed with stimuli.  I had time to absorb each new thing.  At the same time there is in the desert the vastness, openness, and vulnerability that one experiences—with no close boundaries and no place to hide.  And the uncertainty about where, if anywhere, there might be life-giving water, and with nothing but sun and stars to give one direction.

These experiences seem like invitations—to value and not fear emptiness, to take time to absorb the gifts of the day, to find opportunities to let go the busyness and jumble of ordinary life, to find spaciousness.  And with the invitations come the challenges of vulnerability, uncertainty about where to find the basics of life, and the need for a guide.

Queries:

What kind of external, physical landscape speaks most to your soul?  What does that tell you?

What invitations are you hearing?  Are you in touch with your Guide?

Prayer:

Practice a prayer of letting go, being with God in spaciousness.  You may want to use a mantra (a phrase, perhaps from scripture) to repeat, or you may use a sacred word symbolizing your intent to be open to the divine. When you notice yourself thinking, simply let go and return to repeating that word.

For further reflection:

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”. . . (Isaiah 43:19).

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty’” (see John 4: 1-42).

Boredom

As a child I occasionally got bored.  I would go whining to my mother, who would give me some ideas about what to do that seldom suited me.  Nevertheless, it got me thinking and opening to what it was that I wanted to do and what it would take to get to do it.  The period of boredom let creativity and new ideas arise.

Today many of us live lives so full of work, family needs, electronic stimuli, and distractions that we never have time to be bored.  We may miss the chance to get out of the rut or off the gerbil wheel and hear a word of new direction or grace.  I remember suggesting to a clergyperson with whom I met in spiritual direction that he might want to reserve some unplanned time in his sabbatical.  Getting bored would give him time to empty out and be refilled.

Some years ago I attended a one-day centering prayer retreat, with three periods of centering prayer.  In my typical experience, I have a busy mind and return often to the sacred word I have chosen as a symbol of my intent to be open to the presence and action of God in my life.  That afternoon, in the final period of centering prayer, I wasn’t aware of that busyness.  In fact, as I reflected afterwards on the experience, I felt completely empty.  And that experience felt boring and uncomfortable.

Although I have continued to practice centering prayer, I haven’t wanted to try an extended retreat for fear I might encounter that emptiness and boredom again.  Only recently have I been enabled to see that what I received in that experience of centering prayer was “a gift of time that did not have to be filled.”  As Father Carl Arico of Contemplative Outreach told me, I was “already in God’s presence.”  I had in me “the emptiness that leads to spaciousness.”  When I experience boredom again, I will look for God’s presence and gift.

Queries:

What is your experience of boredom?

How might you find in your life that kind of emptiness that leads to spaciousness?  (Remember that it can come in moments as well as in hours and days.)

Prayer:

Set aside ten minutes.  Write or record one thing after another that concerns you until you run out of steam or out of time.  Place those concerns, literally or figuratively, in a sacred place (eg., under a rock, on a table, in your Bible), and let them go to the One who can carry them.

For further reflection:

“O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (See Isaiah 40: 3-5).