Friday, February 28, 2014

Keep Focused

"Stormy Weather"
-clouds gather in the desert skies-

Normally I begin my day by sitting quietly in my garden, watching the sun rise over the eastern mountains. I often post pictures of the bright blue skies or the glorious flowering desert bushes gleaming in the sunlight. But not today. 

Today it's dismal, dark and gloomy outside. It's raining - claps of thunder echoing in the mountains. It's supposed to rain all weekend long. 

As I sit inside, I look out at the the garden and watch the rain fall from gloomy overcast skies.  Everything looks so different from what I am used to every day.  I've been spoiled living in this desert. I'm not used to the damp chill and the dismal gray skies. It all makes me want to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head - close the doors of this Desert Retreat House and wait for the storm to pass.  

After all, you can easily find beauty in clear blue skies and brightly colored flowers blooming on a wilderness path, but how can you find beauty in the gloom? 

And herein lies the lesson of the day.

My spiritual ancestors, the early 4th century desert monastics left the cities and moved to the fringes of the church. They lived in caves and huts in the middle of the desert wilderness, committed to being more faithful followers of Jesus - on a spiritual journey to find deep peace and greater meaning in life.

There is one word that pretty much characterized the spiritual discipline practiced by those ancient Christian monastics.  That one word (a Greek word): "prosoche." It literally translates as "pay attention." Sometimes this word is translated as "be mindful." Maybe an even better translation is, "Be engaged in the long and arduous process of always being focused, continually aware in the moment, no matter what comes along."

Prosoche: When you are alone praying or meditating, keep your focus. When you are working in the fields, keep your focus. When you are sharing meals with the community of your fellow monks or when you are welcoming guests, keep focused. When you feel strong and healthy, keep focused. When the heat of a desert day bakes you to the bone or when your body is burning up with fever, keep focused. When the morning sun is brilliant and the stars of night blind you with their blazing light, and when the skies turn black with clouds, thunder rolls, rain is pelting the earth and mud is sliding off the mountains, keep focused. 

As I sit and look out at the gloomy grey skies and the falling rain, I think about my desert spiritual ancestors, and I commit myself, like them, to engage in that continual process of "Prosoche"- paying attention to everything that comes my way.

In fact, I have a sure and certain belief that sometimes, the greatest beauty in life can be found in the deepest gloom. The brightest of light often swirls around in the most dismal clouds that inevitably come our way.  

The rain has formed puddles of water in my garden. The birds are gathering around those puddles and  sipping up some welcome refreshment in the dry desert heat. I also notice that the hibiscus flowers have opened up glistening with life as they are engulfed by pouring rain.  As I keep my focus on the gray gloomy skies, they don't seem so dismal after all. They are filled with mystery and wonder as they dance in the darkened skies and whisk across the desert valley. The sound of the falling rain is a symphony of harmony and the claps of thunder echoing across the canyons inspire me to awe and wonder. 

I am so glad I didn't close the blinds and go back to bed when I saw that it was gray and rainy outside; but instead, I keep my focus in the stormy weather. The beauty is astounding - HolyPresence always abiding everywhere in all things. 

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