"After the Rain"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
Yesterday afternoon the skies opened up and the desert was drenched in the deluge of an unexpected late-summer rainstorm. It lasted only a few minutes and yet it had the wonderful effect of “clearing the air,” leaving the desert wilderness clean, fresh and renewed after these past incredibly hot and dry, long-summer months.
After the rain stopped I went outside and took a few pictures. I hadn’t taken many photos recently, it’s just been too hot, and besides, there didn’t seem to be much going on in the desert recently, just baking temperatures and months of drought – certainly not enough to go out and take pictures of it.
Yesterday as a light drizzle still lingered in the air, I went into my garden and snapped a picture of a branch on the lime tree in our garden - fresh, green, dripping with dew and alive set against the dry sandy stone. I look at this tree every day but the refreshing rain yesterday helped me to refocus my attention, and it was as if I was seeing this wonder of creation in my own back yard for the very first time.
Yesterday, after the rain, as I focused my camera, I thought about those 4th century ancient Christian desert monks who lived in a wilderness like the region where I live. These ancient mothers and fathers had one primary rule that governed every aspect of their common life together: Keep focused.
Lots of people today talk about the importance of mindfulness in everyday living. Although the desert monks didn’t use the word “mindfulness,” they practiced “mindfulness” as the core discipline of their spiritual life. One of my books about desert spirituality describes this ancient monastic practice of keeping focused:
Always keep focused, no matter how arduous or unproductive this may seem.
When you are alone, praying or meditating, keep your focus.
When you share meals with your fellow monks or welcome guests, keep focused.
When you feel strong and healthy, keep focused.
When the heat of the desert bakes you to the bone, stay focused.
When the morning sun is brilliant and the stars of night blind you
with their blazing light, and when the sky turns black with clouds,
As I have reflected upon my lack of focus in my own spiritual life and my struggles with practicing mindfulness in my daily life, I have come to the conclusion that my basic problem here is my lack of patience.
We live in a fast-paced world of instant results – a “Google” search and a click of the computer key and all the answers are there at our fingertips. At some subtle level I think this fast-paced, instant-answer world seriously impacts the way I approach my spiritual journey. I am willing to clear my mind, open my heart and pay “mindful” attention in the moment, but I expect results from doing all this, and so when everyday life seems boring or the long days of summer seem bone-dry, I tend to lose my focus.
The lesson I learned from my moment of refocusing yesterday is:
Patience lies at the core of all spiritual practice.
In order to practice mindfulness, you have to practice patience.
The renowned spiritual director and author, Henri Nouwen, put it this way:
The word patience means the willingness to stay where you are
and to live the situation to the full
in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.
Over the long hot summer months, it’s not that the world wasn’t teeming with Holy Presence, it’s not as if I was no longer immersed in an ocean of excruciating beauty, it’s just that I didn’t have the patience to “stay with it,” to watch and wait and focus.
The cleansing rain yesterday helped to clear the lens of my soul.