I love the desert and I love desert spirituality: the hope of meeting an indifferent desert-dwelling God, the beauty of grotesqueness, and all the other contradictions the desert offers. Having grown up in what many folk of more pleasant climes would call a desert, I also have a natural affinity that only comes from having left that which I once took for granted. One of the best essays I ever posted on this site (in my opinion) is on this very subject. But this being said …
Probably most of us should stay away from the desert if we want to take those next difficult steps toward becoming one with God. The desert is a dangerous place. Instead of the Church, the Body of Christ, in the desert we find jackals and scorpions and all those other symbols of demonic power that live in the ragged edge between creation and chaos. Instead of God (because God, in the desert, is surprisingly indifferent) we find our own egos and the demons, whispering on the wind about our own grandiose thoughts, “Yes, this is God, this is revelation, this enlightenment!”
God has given us a place where we can journey toward union with him: the Eucharistic Community. It is sometimes boring, almost always annoying, it is full of sinners and hypocrites, and in the midst of struggling with all this, we receive the gift of his very being, his very life, and make it our own. In the midst of everything that is wrong with life all put together in one sanctuary, we can discover True Life and transformation.
The desert is for those who have advanced far in the community. The desert is for those who are already intimately familiar with the voice of God – the true voice of God – and have been given the tools to find it and hear it amidst the jackals and scorpions and demons whispering in the wind. And when the voice of God does not come, the desert is for those who already have a measure of patience to wait on the utter silence of God.
Chances are, that is not a description of you and me. For you and me, the desert is an excuse to escape the Eucharistic Community and all the annoyances it entails.
For the Orthodox, Lent is just beginning and we have seven long weeks until Pascha. I am in a similar mood to a loved one who, after Divine Liturgy last week, said, “I think I’ll give up church for Lent.”
Leanne, over at the This Much I Know blog recommended the Lenten daily guide produced by the Anglican Board of Mission in Australia. It turns out to be a wonderful guide that is using the desert as the basis for its meditations. Ironically, it is in the form of an Android or iPhone app. (And you should also check out Leanne’s blog, which is a great mixture of spiritual and down home stuff.)
But as nourishing as this desert spirituality seems to be, this year I am left wondering: is it a true pilgrimage or just an escape?
Or possibly we need six weeks of jackals and scorpions and demons whispering in the wind to drive us back to the Eucharistic Community, and the words of the hymn, as we make the profound pilgrimage from pew to chalice: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Once I truly grasp that, maybe I’ll be ready for the desert.