Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn Blossoms

a desert bush in bloom
-Autumn in the Desert"

There was a saying often used by the 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers - advice given by the elders to the younger monks:

Go sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything

These 4th century monks had moved out into the desert in order to more intentionally live according to the teachings of Jesus. They lived in community with one another, and their life was simple if not austere-living in small caves ( cells). Their desert location was empty and vast. Some might say their environment was "fierce" - nothing but rock, sand, baking sun, and crawling creatures to greet them every day as they rose for prayer and work. 

They also believed that, beneath the seemingly empty, sandy, rocky, fierce surface, an abundance of life was teeming in and through it all.  And so, like the Buddhist monks of another culture and tradition, these desert Christian monks taught one another to live "mindfully" -  pay attention to where you are, be aware in the moment, and you will be taught everything you need to know: "Go sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything."

Over the past few days I have come to a deep new realization of what those monks taught one another about mindful living in a desert environment.

We moved out into the desert before the onset of the harsh summer months and quickly discovered that  it's not easy to live in a desert in the summertime.  In fact, many of my neighbors pack up and move away to "greener pastures" and cooler temperatures from June until October. Every day the temperature hovers in the triple digits. Most desert flowers and trees are dormant in these months and so the sandy and the rocky soil seems more pronounced than ever- as they glow white in the noonday heat.  You can't really do much outdoors during the day, and so you have to strategize ways for keeping cool and restricting activity to early morning or later evening. The desert is a harsh place to live in the summertime. 

And here we were, all summer long - out in the midst of it all for these past several months.  And, I am so very glad we stayed here because "I have been sitting in my cell and my cell has taught me everything."

Yesterday, as I sat in my garden at daybreak, watching and waiting, it was as if some type of cosmic switch was flipped, and the desert was told "it's Autumn!" It literally seemed as if, overnight, everything had suddenly changed. 

I sat in my garden and the temperature hovered around 70 with no hint of a triple digit forecast.  The air smelled different, the sky looked different. There were more birds singing - butterflies flapping their wings.

However, the biggest surprise of all came when we ventured out into the desert for a hike along a wilderness trail. We hadn't been able to do this in the summer months. it was too hot.  So when we finally did make it out onto the desert floor, I was flabbergasted to discover that  the desert actually blooms in the Autumn.

Having come from back East, I always thought of Autumn as being a season for dying. The leaves turn gold and fall from the trees, flowers die, the ground gets cold as winter advances. But not so in the desert - Autumn is a time for life to once again spring from the rock and the sand. The bushes along the desert trail were budding with bright yellow flowers- desert  trees blooming in shades of pink and red.  It was an incredibly life-giving experience. My cell was teaching me everything.

The fierce desert landscape of nothingness and barenness has taught me a lesson about life. Even when life seems most fierce, when we bake and wither in the rocky soil, abundant life abides and we are never abandoned.  A Holy Presence, a Universal force, "God" is always flowing just beneath the surface of the landscape. Some might say "grace abides." 

The desert also teaches a lesson about "mindfulness" - watch and wait, be patient, be present to where you are, be mindful in the places and moments in which you find yourself. Don't run away - "trust" that eventually, even when life is most fierce and the hot sun is baking down, the desert will bloom again.  In fact, the most beautiful flowers bloom in the driest of times. 

Go sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything 


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