- in my meditation garden -
Yesterday someone came up to me and told me that when he retired a few years ago he moved out to the desert to “find God; ” but as of yet his efforts have been unsuccessful. My immediate response was, “maybe you’ve got it upside down, maybe you’re here to let God find you?”
Lots of people come out to the desert to find “God,” to seek deeper truth, greater wisdom, the meaning of life. They come out into the wilderness for various sorts of spiritual retreats - they sometimes come here to be alone, often to spend time in solitude, prayer and meditation. More often then not they come here armed with books and journals, they say all sorts of prayers, they fill their minds with ideas about how they will conduct their soul-searching quest – looking for God is hard work and serious business.
But the lesson of the desert is that you rarely find wisdom by looking for it - you go into a desert and wait for wisdom to come to you.
I am reminded of this desert wisdom every morning when I go out into my garden for a daily period of quiet time. I intentionally place my chair so that it is positioned directly facing a hummingbird feeder hanging in our garden. When I first sit down, the hummingbirds are nowhere to be seen as they wait in the bushes and trees until I am sitting quietly, sure it’s safe for them to come out. But, if I wait patiently it’s almost inevitable that within a few minutes I will hear the flutter of wings as the tiny birds and other assorted creatures make their way to the feeder and the fountain –a source of endless entertainment for me.
As I sit and wait for those hummingbirds to show up every morning, I am regularly reminded of something the Quaker teacher and author, Parker Palmer, once observed:
The human soul is essentially shy – just like a wild animal,
it will flee from the crowd and seek safety in the underbrush.
If we want to see a wild animal we know that the last thing we should do
is to go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.
But if we walk quietly into the wilderness and sit at the base of a tree,
breathing with the earth and fading into our surroundings,
the wild creature we seek will eventually show up.
Lots of people today are engaged in some sort of soul-searching journey, a spiritual quest for meaning and truth, a serious and concerted effort to find “God” in their lives.
More often than not people think of their “spiritual quest” as some sort of “Hide and Seek” game in which “God” is hiding and the soul is seeking. But the wisdom of the desert turns this upside down. On a spiritual quest, the soul is hiding in the underbrush of life and “God” is the one who is doing the seeking.
On his quest for enlightenment, the Buddha did nothing but sit under a tree, waiting for 40 days. When his mind was uncluttered and his spirit was empty, wisdom came to him and he was enlightened by truth. Jesus did the same thing when he went out into the wilderness for 40 days. He just sat there and waited in silence until truth came to him and he heard the voice of “God.”
Soul searching is a “hide and seek” experience - “God” searches for the hiding soul and hidden spirit.
I sit in my garden as a hummingbird flutters at the nearby feeder and I am reminded of a wonderful Zen saying:
When you look for the ‘way,’ you become far from it.
When you seek the ‘way’ you turn away from it all the more.