“In the desert …you can remember your name, ’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain …”
From the song “A Horse With No Name”, performed by a group called America. ‘Came out in 1971, Europe, and in 1972 – – – the States.
The desert: frequented by Jesus; and JTB (John the Baptist); and Paul, maker of fine tents. Desert Fathers spent years in the desert, as did Desert Mothers. Desert Children? No. No Desert Children. It was during the 1st and 2nd centuries when these “Desert Fathers”, these “Desert Mothers”, migrated away from the more heavily populated areas … into the desert. These Desert Fathers carried with them a supernatural desire to focus more intently on God. Society had become like a sinking ship to the DF’s (Desert Fathers) because of sin and mediocrity. The desert. Individuals still find themselves in the desert, a metaphor (oh, there’s that word again). St. John of the Cross wrote some words, somewhere in the sixteenth century, about this desert experience. He referred to this desert experience as “the dark night of the soul”.
Gerald May wrote a book entitled The Dark Night of the Soul, based on the sixteenth century work written by St. John of the Cross. Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers pursued the desert, entered these harsh, dry, lonely, places on their own. Many sojourners of the “here-and-now” find themselves in the desert … not their intended destination. Strange things happen in the desert; and pain, deep and soulish pain, may come along with a glimpse of transcendence, priceless, sacred, gifts of wisdom and discernment.
One of the many quotes I remember from reading Dr. May’s book goes like this:
“There are gifts of the dark night, but they do not come until morning.”
A crude word picture has come to mind many times when I think of these desert experiences.
I walk into the medical clinic, to see a doctor. The woman behind the counter has me sign in, and then tells me, “Okay. Now, please have a seat in the waiting room, and then we will call your name.” Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I wait to see a doctor. I am experiencing pain, a need for healing. And, I have to wait, and wait, and wait. This waiting involves disruptive stillness, deafening silence.
My waiting process, my desert, is a place where I consider what the questions are, and I attempt to listen, and not focus on what I think I need to say. These desert experiences are some of the more profound opportunities to re-discover prayer … My last piece, in all of this, is a memory I will always cherish.
I had a two-day silent retreat in a place on the way up to Mount Evans, outside of Idaho Springs (Colorado). I had no idea about what to expect. I spent time being still, praying, reading. Before I knew the daylight faded into night, I hit the pillow sometime around 10:30. A few hours later, I awoke to stomach pain which led to prolific nausea. I made it to the community restroom / facilities. I crawled into a stall, and stayed there for several hours, laying on the cool linoleum, unable to move because of the continuous vomiting. I literally called out for mercy. Finally, I had a strong sense that the vomiting was over. I hobbled back to my room, sat on a fairly large comfortable reading chair, turned the lamp on low and stared upward, asking God why He had put me through that. I cannot explain the peace that emerged, and poured out on me like a thick, fragrant molasses. This mix between the hellishness of my nausea … and the indescribable peace afterwards was an unprecedented encounter. And I’ve never had anything like that happen since.
Tom Petty wrote a song with a great line:
“The waiting is the hardest part.”
Truly, I would be honored, privileged to hear from you, about your deserts, and what you have learned from them.