Thursday, April 4, 2013

Words, Words, Words

A "Joshua Tree" in the High Desert

Last month I was leading a men's retreat in the beautiful high desert area of Southern California (not all that far from the desert valley in which I live). I have given many retreats in my life, but on this retreat I found something had changed in me.

In the past, I would give a series of "retreat talks" on various themes. I would present an abundance of ideas and concepts and we would then have conversations about my presentations - words, words, words!

This last retreat was different. After a brief introduction, I asked the participants to go out into the incredibly beautiful desert environment - dotted with Joshua Trees, snow-capped mountains in the distance - and simply sit in reverent silence. I gave them all journals and asked them to eventually write about their experiences.

After a few hours we all convened again and I was stunned at what these guys had written. Some came back with poems, others had taken pictures with their cellphones, some drew pictures,  others had written deeply personal and soul searching accounts of what had happened in those two hours - it was probably the best retreat I ever presented. The truth is, of course, I didn't really lead it at all,  at least not in the traditional sense. There were no lectures, few words, only silence in a desert setting filed and overflowing with God's holy presence - a presence that washed over, cleansed, and refreshed our human hearts. 

Now that I live in a desert, I find myself praying a lot more but using words to pray a lot less.

This all makes me think of  a  great Sufi wisdom saying written by Rumi, the wonderful Islamic mystic-poet:

"Words are accidents and have no substance or final cause. Dwelling on words is dwelling on superficialities. A burning heart is what I want. I want to be the companion of burning, to set the heart afire with love, and utterly burn up thoughts and vain expressions." 

That's what I desire - less words and a burning heart.

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