a trail into the desert
Our Los Angeles home was quite large. It had several huge closets, a basement storage area and a big garage. Our new desert home is beautiful but much smaller than our L.A. residence. It has very little storage space except for a few closets and a small garage. So when we moved out here, we had to do some serious downsizing.
As we prepared to move out of L.A and sorted through all the "stuff " in our filled-to-the ceiling closets and in our cluttered basement and garage, we were amazed at how much we had accumulated over the years.
At one point in my life, I was going through a "scented-candle phase," and so for years I accumulated candles. Our closets were filled with cartons and jars of candles - candles we didn't even know we had and never used. I had also gone through a "sandals" phase. When I was cleaning out my closet, I discovered I had eight or ten pairs of perfectly good sandals- each pair looking pretty much like the next, some hardly ever worn (maybe never worn).
Our home was filled with things we didn't know we had, didn't need, and hardly ever used. So, we sold some of the stuff, gave a lot away, and had the rest of it hauled off as junk.
I never thought of myself as a greedy person but I realized that "greed" had infected my life in a very subtle way. The Psychiatrist Eric Fromm defined greed as "a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction."
As we prepared to move out to the desert, my endless piles of stuff served as a vivid reminder of my own "greed." Without realizing it, I had been gathering piles and piles of stuff and putting it into my life's bottomless and unsatisfying pit. It was very liberating to give it all away and to move out into a desert where life is far more simple and far less cluttered.
Our move out to the desert was not only an occasion for me to clear out the many things in my life. Our exodus into the desert helped me clear out much of the clutter in my mind and my spirit. When you live in the desert, you don't need a lot of words, you don't need a systematic and sophisticated theology, you don't need elaborate rituals performed in stained glass churches.
The morning sun rising over the mountains, the boundless, fierce and strangely beautiful wilderness terrain, the evening glow on the desert sand at the setting of the sun, the crystal-clear night skies, the cosmos all aflame - all these things make ideas, words, theologies and rituals seem timid and paltry.
Living in the desert reminds me of something Meister Eckhart once said many centuries ago:
God is not found by adding anything but by a process of subtraction.
I still probably have too many things. All I need out here is a pair of sandals, shorts and a tee-shirt every day ( a hat and sunglasses also help). My closets are still pretty full of lots of unnecessary things; but at least now I am dealing with the demon, greed. My life is no longer the bottomless pit. There simply isn't enough room for lots of stuff out here in the desert.
This morning I looked out into the wilderness in front of my house and two hikers were passing by- walking up into the desert on one of the trails. They were traveling very lightly. It's too hot out there to be weighed down with too much heavy equipment.
As they passed by I was reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples when he sent them out on their mission:
Take nothing for the journey - no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.
Pretty good advice for all of us as we walk along the wilderness trail of life.