Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Spiritual Quest

"A Flower in the Sand"
- Summer at the Desert Retreat House -

As I sat in my garden this morning, at the beginning of another hot summer day in the desert, my eye caught sight of a tender, bright-red flower blooming in the bone-dry sand, springing up from the flesh of a thorny cactus; and I was immediately struck with the wonder of it all. How was it even possible that such an exquisitely beautiful flower could blossom in this impossibly dry desert climate in the heat of summer?

The truth is that, in the desert there are some varieties of flowers that only bloom after the temperatures have soared up into the triple digits, when the sand is about as dry as it ever gets.

I wonder, is the desert offering me a powerful reminder that Beauty has no limits?

A I watched that little flower blooming in the hot sand I remembered something I read a few years back in Christian Wiman’s book, My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer – a poignant autobiographical account of his own spiritual quest.

Early in his youth, Wiman had abandoned “God,” and while he pursued a life of poetry and writing Mr. Wiman had totally turned away from the traditional religious belief of his childhood years. Yet, somehow there was always this deep part of him that hungered for something more, something deep at his core that sought union with a transcendence beyond his own individual self.

Later in life, when he was diagnosed with cancer, Chris Wiman realized that, while he may have abandoned religion and turned away from his ideas of  “God,” an abiding Holy Presence had never stopped seeking him.  

Wiman offers this beautiful description of his new-found awareness of his spiritual quest:

It seemed as if I happened upon some rare flower deep in the desert,
and even though I was just discovering it,
it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me,
surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.

‘O God, is my hunger a hunger for you,
or is it evidence of your hunger for me?’

In response to one of my recent blog posts someone told me that he wished we could get rid of that phrase “spiritual quest.” He observed that this phrase sends all the wrong messages by implying that soul-searching is a task undertaken by a select few. A spiritual journey is popularly understood as a path followed by motivated and perhaps more spiritually-gifted souls who muster up their time and talent and go on a quest for a holy grail, a journey to discover who and where  “God” is in their lives.

I actually agree that maybe we should get rid of words like spiritual quest and abandon phrases like spiritual journey or at least redefine what all this means.

As I see it, if you are a human being you are innately on a spiritual quest.

The universal energy of Love who we call “God” abides in and flows through everything that has being, in and through every one of us, always tugging at the deepest part of our humanity, pulling us out of our individual isolation into a deeper transcendent union. 
Even in the driest seasons of unbelief that power of Love never gives up the quest.

I believe that our desire for transcendence is not “our” desire at all. It is the energy of universal Love pulling us out of our own bloated egos – “our hunger for God is actually evidence of God’s hunger for us.”

The great Islamic poet, Rumi, described the “spiritual quest” in this way:

Listen, O drop, give yourself up without regret
And in exchange gain the Ocean.
Who indeed should be so fortunate?
An Ocean wooing a drop.

What you seek is seeking you!