Wednesday, October 08, 2008

the desert

The desert in Scripture is a place where the soul experiences need, and sees its need. It is expressed in terms of being parched and thirsty, and in a dry and barren land where there is no water. The blessing here is that one is given to see that apart from God all is a breath or loses its true meaning. Though humankind is now outside the garden due to the curse, there is much blessing from God's hand in creation. But trouble is part of the fabric of existence now on every side, both within and without, because redemption and reconciliation in Jesus are needed.

The desert involves having become surfeited on this world's goodies to the point where we've had enough. Or in facing one's own emptiness before God. In the desert one either grumbles and lives a miserable existence, or seeks God and finds their needs met. The desert is meant to be a "place" where we meet God on God's terms, not on our own. Where we strip ourselves of all we put on to hide from the Truth, and instead come to the Way, the Truth and the Life, just as we are.

The desert experience is not meant to be lived in complete isolation from others. There is a kind of isolation involved when a soul is seeking to meet God, but it is lived in and for this world, for God and for others, in the end finding one's own true unique life in God, in it. But it's not just a once for all experience, but ongoing. It is an attitude as well as a practice, a way of life- in Jesus for us all.

This is drawn out both from Scripture and from the fourth century Christian hermits of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, the Desert Fathers and Mothers- from the book, Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another, by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. I'm halfway through that book, and this is my understanding of just part of what is said in it. And I find its basis in Jesus and in God's word.

What might you like to add to this? What does the desert mean in your life?

9 comments:

NaNcY said...

interesting post, brother.

thanks.

L.L. Barkat said...

I like that thought about the desert experience not meaning isolation from others. It can feel that way, I think. But perhaps one needn't feel guilty for seeking companionship along the way?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, for me too, Nancy. Thanks.

Ted M. Gossard said...

L.L.,
No, because we only have our true identity in relationship with others and with God. True of God himself as Father, Son and Spirit, in the mutual indwelling.

So in the desert, it must be with God but in relationship to others. I don't really get this well, and am working on it from the book, so as to understand it better. But whether I get it or not, I'm glad it's not solitary confinement. Though there is always that ongoing place of the soul's wrestling I guess, and working through matters with God.

Every Square Inch said...

great post, ted. deserts are God's design to make us thirsty for him ...

Ted M. Gossard said...

ESI,
Yes, wherever our need of God becomes evident to us, so that the desert can end up being our friend. Thanks.

Andrew said...

Dear Ted,

You're posting wonderfully insightful comments on Williams' "Where God Happens," a book I read last year. Now that you've started a conversation on it here, I'm taking it off my shelf again and re-reading it, finding it even more provocative than before. As Williams says in Chapter 1, he writes to remind us that our contemplative lives in Christ are necessarily "about life, death, and our neighbor"(13). Clearly the book is about contemplative living, an ancient and biblical way of living our faith now embraced by many evangelicals. That Williams stresses the importance of contemplative liviing should not surprise us. After all, the word "contemplation," as evangelist Leighton Ford reminds us, is "a two-part word, compounded from the Latin "con" (meaning "with") and "templum" (temple), thus is to observe things within a special place"; that is, in the presence of God. ("The Attentive Life," 83). The great importance of the Desert Fathers and Mothers is their witness to us today as we either voluntarily enter "desert places" (where the poor, marginalized, and outcasts, live) or involuntarily find ourselves in deserted places such as life in depression and prisons of one sort or another.

That you are reading such an intensely informative book makes you now a brother to all those Abbas and Ammas, and I look forward to your postings that will help all of us discover and articulate the contemplative life in Christ as we live in various deserts with our neighbors.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Andrew,
Thanks for your kind words, and for your good thoughts. And thanks for putting me on to this book. I look forward to reading and learning more from the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

firstsamuel16seven said...

intersting post