Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Spirituality of Dry Places

"Flowers in the Sand"
- At the Desert Retreat House - 

In light of Donald Trump’s surprising election to the presidency yesterday, many people in America and throughout the world today find themselves exuberant and joyful, and at least as many others are feeling dismayed, angry, frightened and even devastated. This morning I read a comment on my Facebook page:  I feel as if my whole world has been unraveled.”  

I have been reading all sorts of articles and social media posts aimed at comforting those many people who are experiencing chaos and unravelling on this day after yesterday’s election, but I think that, rather than trying to soothe the pain it may be better to “sit with” the anger and the sense of loss for a while before moving on. In my experience, the driest places in life are often the source of the most abundant life.

I live in the desert of Southern California. It’s a place that, at first glance, seems as if nothing could ever grow at any time of year. The desert is barren, desolate and rocky, it seems like it's way too hot here and way too dry for anything to thrive in the soil of this wilderness land.  And yet, this is a region where the most beautiful, exotic flowers and luscious fruit grow year-round, springing up from thorny places and dry ground. 

Ever since we moved out here I have found the desert has been my teacher and guide. This seemingly barren wilderness is a perfect icon of the spiritual journey. 

Each and every one of us knows what it means to experience barren patches and dead-end places in life. Today many people throughout the world may be feeling like they have entered into a desert and that their life is “unravelling,” unsure of what the future might hold. Oftentimes, when people feel as if they have come to a dry and empty place in life they resign themselves to their fate and retreat into a comfort zone, giving up all hope of life and new growth. 

On this day when so many people may be feeling as if they have hit a "dry patch" in life I want to look to the lesson the desert teaches us all. Instead of hiding away or looking for soothing comfort, it may be wise to sit in the wilderness and see what may spring up  – sometimes the driest places are the sources of richest life.

Buddhist teacher and nun, Pema Chodron, wisely observes:

Instead of being bad news,
feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment,
anger, jealousy, fear,
are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we are holding back.
They teach us perk up and lean in
when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.
They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity,
exactly where we’re stuck, and lucky for us,
they are with us wherever we go.

Priest and author Richard Rohr talks about falling apart and feeling unraveled on a spiritual path:

Most of us need to have the status quo shaken now and then
leaving us off balance and askew.
In this uncomfortable space we can finally recognize
The much larger Kingdom of God.

For those of us who may feel as if they are off balance and askew today, look for the Kingdom of God among us!


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