Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Wintery Spirituality

Snow on the Mountains
-overlooking the desert below-

Most of the country is in the grip of a pre-winter arctic blast.  We have even experienced a touch of winter here in the desert. There is snow on the mountains and a touch of frost in the desert nights. The wilderness terrain always seems stark, vast and empty, and it feels even more daunting these days.

Yesterday I was reading a commentary about "desert spirituality." The author noted that the desert teaches a "wintery spirituality." More often than not, the desert wilderness where I live is baked by temperatures in the triple digits. Even in the winter, if the daytime temperatures drop into the 50's, people complain that they are "freezing cold." So, at first it sounded odd to think of the desert as a place that fosters a "wintery spirituality." 

But upon reflection, this is exactly what the desert has been teaching me - it has been leading me down a path of "wintery spirituality:"

The desert reminds people of things they would rather forget, taking them to the edges. The desert has nothing to do with comfort... It is a place of 'wintery spirituality,' with its shrill cry of absence and death, contrasting this to a 'summery spirituality' of artificial warmth, easy exuberance, and glib certainty about the divine presence.'

The desert experience is a 'wintery' phenomenon, more given to being emptied than filled. It is harsh, lean in it's imagery, beggarly of its gifts of love. Yet no love is deeper nor more honest than desert love. 

I so very much identify with the description of the desert as being a place of "wintery spirituality."  The terrain is vast, wild, unpredictable and uncontrollable. It is a place of harsh, fierce beauty- conducive more to asking questions than providing answers.

I walk in the desert and everything around me speaks of absence and emptiness. Yet oddly enough, in the total vastness of the wild emptiness, I sense an awesome, abiding presence, a universal energy, an abiding force of fiercely tender love" - an "absence" which is a "presence" that cannot be named or explained or described or contained. 

The wintery spirituality of the desert has taught me that any path to a deeper spirituality always involves   some type of surrender. 

Most of my life I have embraced a "summery" spirituality - my study of theology and my various positions in the center of the church have always been sources of comfort for me, providing me with food to nourish my ego. However, the desert has led me into a "wintery spirituality" where I have had to give it all away. 

In the desert I have come to realize that my easy answers and "glib certainty about the divine presence"   don't work for me anymore. The desert has now led me to the threshold of mystery - walking the "wintery" path of the wilderness, all I can do is "surrender" to the mystery. So I humble my protected ego, give up my pretenses, give away my comforting answers, and I pour it all out into a higher power that cannot be named. 

There is frost in the air on this wintery morning in the desert.  There is snow on the mountains. It all seems so stripped bare, like there is nothing left. 

Only "GOD" remains.

There is no love deeper nor more honest than desert love

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  1. Paul: I marvel at your ability to come up with fresh things to say. Thanks so much!

  2. You are most welcome-thanks for reading