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Desert in the Oasis

February 19, 2013

That’s the thing about pain … it demands to be felt.
-John Green, The Fault in our Stars

In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of the pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. … We can’t leap over our grief work.  Nor can we skip over our despair work.  We have to feel it.
-Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

I glanced at the rearview mirror on my way home from our Ash Wednesday service, and for a brief moment I experienced what Richard Rohr is talking about in his book Everything Belongs when he talks about truly seeing reality for what it is — the Great Mystery, the kingdom of God, the foundation which is love.

I saw myself as a person covered with the cross of Christ.  An ashy cross, to be sure, but one which still contained wrapped up in it those disparate and paradoxical ideas that we embrace when we claim the cross of Christ — sacrifice and victory, death and life, emptiness and abundance.  No matter what I was, underneath, the cross was ever before me.  I was irrevocably marked by it.

Oh, that I could always see myself, and every soul I meet, with those eyes.

But I don’t.  And the first, resonant lesson that Lent has brought is a very opposite one.  As I walk deeper into Rohr’s book on contemplative prayer, and as I offer to my Father, with as open hands as I can manage, the hurts and the bitterness of the last year, there are no easy answers or quick fixes. (Although nothing about Lent is really a quick spiritual fix, is it?  Forgive me of ever treating it that way, Lord.)

Sit with the pain, He says.  Walk into it.  It is but a season, and has its purpose, and to wish it quickly away is to neglect that purpose.

Everything belongs and everything can be received.  We don’t have to deny, dismiss, defy, or ignore.  What is, is okay.  What is, is the great teacher.  I have always seen this as the deep significance of Jesus’ refusal of the drugged wine on the cross (Matt. 27:34).
-Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

There is a small comfort in this … as though the Father, whom I have long thought to have been mute in the face of my deep sorrow, is saying, “I see you.  I have heard you.  And this is my will for you.”  If it is, let me embrace it.  Whatever the pain is meant to teach me in this season, let me walk in to it, and dwell in the present with it, and learn from the One who has borne all sorrows on my behalf.

This learning, and dwelling, and whole practice of contemplative prayer that Rohr beautifully depicts, reminds me of words I read earlier this year from Peter Rollins.

For too long the church has been seen as an oasis in the desert – offering water to those who are thirsty. In contrast, the emerging community appears more as a desert in the oasis of life, offering silence, space and desolation amidst the sickly nourishment of Western capitalism. It is in this desert, as we wander together as nomads, that God is to be found. For it is here that we are nourished by our hunger.
-Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God

I am hungry, and empty, and desolate, and yet I trust God, and I am tired of the “sickly nourishment” of easy answers.  I suspect that there may in fact be no answers, but that the wrestling with the questions is itself the only answer I will ever receive.  I think that I need this desert.  I think that Lent is intended, in some ways, to be the desert of silence, space, and desolation.

Help me to receive it, Lord, with open hands, and with a humble heart.  To your glory.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2013 7:30 pm

    My friend, it seems you are most inspired to post during the seasons of preparation–in the hunger and thirst that rises out of hope deferred. I suppose you will have no dearth of writing material this side of heaven. God bless your Lenten pilgrimage.

  2. February 19, 2013 7:33 pm

    Thanks, friend!

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