- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
The afternoon temperature in the desert where we live soared to over 100 degrees yesterday - today it’s supposed to be just as hot and it's only the middle of May.
Ever since moving out here to our “Desert Retreat House,” I have had many friends ask why on earth we would ever choose to live in such a desolate place - at least why not “get out of town” for the summer months?
In fact, many people do go away when it starts to hit the triple digits here. In one sense, our summer season is more like wintertime -the height of the tourist season is now over, the festivals are finished and you can get a really good deal on a hotel because no one wants to be in the desert at this time of year. And yet, many if not most of us year-long residents choose to remain here to enjoy the stillness and the silence that settles in when all the tourists go away and the “snowbirds” return to their permanent residences in cooler climates, A lot of people, like me, actually think that this is perhaps the very best time of the year.
It’s true that there are no soothing beaches for lounging in the sun or green forests with lush meadows for afternoon strolls. In fact when the daytime temperatures hit the triple digits it becomes virtually impossible to even go outside during the afternoon hours and the stark desert terrain seems even drier than ever.
But as I think about it, this silent emptiness and utter starkness is precisely why the desert is such a powerful place to live and such an abundant source of spiritual vitality - maybe that’s why most of us “desert rats” continue on here all year long.
When you are able to endure the challenges of living in a desert at this time of year, the harsh-baking sun and the stark-dry emptiness, you learn to develop a sense of “resilience.” Living here I have learned the lesson that you can survive whatever comes along in life and, in fact, you can thrive even in the emptiest of places.
It seems to me that “resilience” is perhaps the great spiritual gift the desert has to offer. In the midst of the emptiness I have learned to discover abundance. In the places where it seems that I am most alone I have experienced a powerful truth that I am never abandoned – there is a Holy Presence here that never lets me go.
I used to read about “desert spirituality” but I never understood what this meant until we moved here. A profound wisdom emerges out of living in a hot, often-uncomfortable, empty place. One of my desert spirituality books suggests that, paradoxically, a desert is a place for developing a “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,
contrasting with a ‘summery spirituality’
of easy exuberance and glib certainty of the divine presence.
The desert experience is a ‘wintery phenomenon’
more given to being emptied than filled – harsh and lean in its imagery.
Yet, no love is greater than desert love.
The more I think about it, living in a desert, especially in the hottest and driest time of year, may in fact be quite iconic of the routine, everyday life we all live- perhaps far more iconic than living on a beautiful beach or in a lush green mountain forest. For the most part life is a wilderness, life is difficult, life is a place where there aren’t a lot of glib easy answers. Much of the time our lives may seem more empty than full, and many times “God” seems distant and we are filled with more doubt than certainty.
Someone once said;
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
I think there is great wisdom in this observation.
Everyone we meet is in the midst of the fray, struggling to make it though the wilderness; and yet the lesson we learn from our struggles is that we are not alone in it all - we have one another, and a Holy Presence abides. Even when we only feel absence, the fullness of Love abides:
No love is greater than desert love.