A voice cries out:
In the wilderness prepare
The way of the Lord,
And make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
The quest for solitude, to be alone with the Alone, complements our longing to live in solidarity with those who share our faith and formation traditions.
The tendency to flee from the emptiness of a merely worldly existence leads us to flee to God, if not in the wilderness itself, then in the hermitage of our heart.
The pursuit of deeper intimacy with the Divine calls for radical detachment from self-gratification. Abnegation of egoism liberates us to seek God in times of joy and sorrow. In consolation and desolation, God is with us and the peace of Jesus is the Spirit’s gift to us.
A lesson for spiritual living, taught to us by our desert experiences, is that society’s promises of security prove to be passing events compared to the lasting gifts of inner silencing and self-awareness; of repentance and abandonment to God; of humility and self-renunciation at the foot of the Cross.
The “desert” can be for us a broken marriage; the challenge of caring for aging parents in our own elder years; the failure of a “guaranteed scheme” to gain wealth. Suddenly we have to choose between the pain of sheer ego-desperation or the glory of praising the saving power of our Lord, unattached to temporal rewards.
In the desert of self-surrender to Divine Providence, our commitment to God must be unconditional. It demands death to our false self and faith in the darkness of not knowing where God may be leading us.
In these lonely expanses of the soul, only God suffices. No one but God can be our guide. The deserts of our interior journeys have not been mapped in advance. The call to a deeper life of love that casts out fear (see 1 John 4:18) is like a magnet that pulls us where we at first would not want to go. Yet our hunger and thirst for God can be satisfied in no other way.
In these vast expanses of discovering our true self, it is a common occurrence to be tempted by such evil spirits as those of distrust and dejection, discouragement and doubt; they try to dissuade us from plunging into more profound depths of surrender and from persevering with courage despite the obstacles we face.
The more we listen to the signals of transcendence we receive in the silence of our heart, the happier we are to rest in God’s presence, even though all we may feel is God’s absence.
Other obstacles desert-dwellers overcome with the help of grace are: a dissipating lassitude that overlooks the least sign of progress and refuses to focus on the blessing in every limit; an unwillingness to accept the truth that conversion has to be ongoing; and a resistance to unlocking the prison of pride into which we have thrown ourselves.
Worst of all, we may refuse to smash the idols that preoccupy our attention and cause us to lose our relationship with God in the prayer of simple presence.
Succumbing to selfishness and choosing to be loveless are other ways in which we discount the divine design we are destined to fulfill in these deserts of deep longing.
The conditions that offset such hindrances to our receptivity to the divine initiative begin with silencing unfounded fears and remembering who we most deeply are. Poverty of spirit and purity of heart sharpen our senses; they help us to relinquish the illusion of autonomous power and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In the desert, we watch and wait for some inkling of what God asks of us. We never stop praying for the liberation of our will from the selfishness of sin that so weakens our powers of thinking, judging, and acting in accordance with God’s will.
In this time of transformation, we must be willing to acknowledge that our heart is a veritable battlefield. The traps set by deformative dispositions are likely to spring unless we remain vigilant.
The demons of dissonance, dissipation, and distraction lose their hold on us when we say “Yes” to our divine call and hand over to God not only what we do, but the whole of who we are.
The promise of an earthly paradise devoid of God can never compete with the efficacy of spiritual living in the ordinary delights and dryness of daily life.
The desert is not remote; it is in the heart of anyone who understands the paradox that only through renunciation can we find the grace of liberation that sets us free in body, mind, and spirit (see John 8:32). Now and for all ages, Christ challenges us to leave behind the snares of illusory living and to embrace the poverty of the cross.