Friday, June 3, 2016

Holy Absence

"Beauty in Dry Places"

It’s only the beginning of June and yet the afternoon temperature today is expected to get up to about 115 degrees. We are now entering into the driest and hottest time of the year out here in the desert where I live.

Oddly enough, at first glance the desert baking under triple digit temperatures looks like a place where nothing could ever grow, far too hot, too dry. too rocky, the soil too barren.  And yet everywhere I look I can see desert flowers growing, the cacti are in full bloom with the most elegant and exotic flowers springing up out of the thorns. Delicious ripe tomatoes are growing in abundance in my back-yard vegetable garden, and the trees around my house are laden with figs, pomegranates, lemons and grapefruit.

The desert is a wise teacher - it is a perfect icon of the spiritual journey. The desert serves as a constant reminder that every season in life is a time to plant and and a time to grow and oftentimes the most beautiful flowers and luscious fruit grow in the most barren and desolate places of our lives.

Each and every one of us knows what it means to experience barren patches and dead-end places in life. I know plenty of people who feel stuck in a rut, perhaps bored with their jobs or sick of the same old routine. Still others may have come to the end of their careers and feel as if their hopes and dreams just never panned out or maybe they have suffered loss or are afflicted with sickness and disease.

Very often when people feel as if they have entered into a dry and empty place in life, they feel abandoned, “hung out to dry,” and when that happens they may also sense an absence of “God.” But the lesson I learn from the desert in these hot dried-up days is that sometimes absence is a "holy absence" - the most fertile place for a holy presence to grow.

I am reminded of something Henri Nouwen once said:

It is a great grace to experience Gods presence,
but when we don’t experience this presence
it doesn’t mean that God is absent.
It often means that we are being called to go deeper on our spiritual journey.

Today as I enter into this hot and dry season out here where I live, I look around at all the abundant life springing up from the barren desert soil I and I embrace the wisdom the desert is teaching. Every season is a season of hope and sometimes the most hopeful season of all is the season in which there seems to be no reason for any hope at all.

This morning as the sun rose up to bake the desert sands throughout the day, I closed my eyes and called to mind one of my favorite passages from the Hebrew scriptures. It is a song of hope sung by the prophet Isaiah to the Hebrew people who were living in exile, far away from their native land:

Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
streams will flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
thirsty ground a splashing fountain.

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