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Each Desert Is Fertile

Each desert is fertile in its own way . . .

A month before my birthday, I found myself in the wilderness once again. My journey was turning more deeply spiritual, and I was struggling to find my way.

I remembered my friend Matt’s wisdom. He left a big job after spending fifteen years founding an organization, building it successfully and passing it on to his successor. His departure was bittersweet. While he was relieved of a heavy burden, he was left without a kingdom, without a leadership role to define him, and without the status both conveyed. He summed up his wisdom in a single sentence: “Every time the revolution comes, it leaves you a pauper.”

That’s the way of the desert, the barren place where everyone is a pauper. The desert levels our personal hierarchies, deflates our egos, exposes our humanness, and reveals our vulnerabilities.

Yet, each desert is fertile in its own way . . . 

The desert of loneliness invites us into solitude. It is there that the pain of being alone is transformed into a silent, sustaining inner peace. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, (Jesus) got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1: 35)

The desert of grief and loss is the place where we are consoled. It is there our tears do their work, and our spirits are renewed. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

The desert of mistakes and failure – even betrayal – urges us to abandon our feeble attempts to save ourselves. It is there we discover that love is deepened by mercy and forgiveness. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15)

Each desert is fertile in its own way . . .  

The silence of the desert allows us to strip away what is unnecessary, to gather ourselves, to come to grips with what is true, and to focus on what is essential. It invites us to look back with renewed perspective to see how far we’ve come, to appreciate the gift, and to reckon the cost. Desert silence gives us the chance to begin again, to change direction, and to chart a new course.

The desert urges us to recalibrate our lives as a necessity we can no longer ignore, as an urgency we can no longer neglect. It is a place of transformation, an experience that divides our lives into “before” and “after.” The transformation we experience in the desert is sometimes major, other times minor – yet it is always significant. When we leave the desert, we are different than when we entered it – even if we are the only ones who recognize the difference.

The desert invites us to let go, to empty ourselves, to leave behind whatever holds us back. There we begin to recognize how the biases of conventional wisdom and the hypnotic effect of culture conspire to dull our perception. There some deeper instinct begins to guide us, and we awaken to something new.

In the desert, our ears begin to hear the voices of the vulnerable because their cries are no longer drowned out by our preoccupation with our own agenda. Our eyes start to recognize the injustices that surround us – reinforced by systems and structures that advantage some and oppress others. Slowly, painfully our hearts are opened. We begin to recognize the ways in which our complacent silence has contributed to circumstances we can no longer condone or tolerate.

Each desert is fertile in its own way . . . 

Sometimes a new voice is born in the desert and forged by its solitude. John the Baptist found his voice there. He emerged from the wilderness proclaiming a powerful truth. Those with a vested interest in the power and privilege of the current order refused to tolerate either the message or the messenger. John’s voice sealed his fate; he had to go.

The fertile gift of my current desert is opening my heart, seeing injustice, and surrendering to transformation. It is slowly giving birth to a new voice. Perhaps it is the same for you.

In the desert, we may find ourselves leaving behind the timid and tentative voices that crave approval and repeat conventional wisdom. A new voice may slowly gather force, emerging from some place deep within. It may be unbidden, even frightening. That new voice will be stronger, more prophetic, and infused with passion – even, at times, reverberating with righteous anger. That voice will seek to tell the truth, to set things straight. That voice may not try to offend, but at times that may be the inevitable consequence.

Each desert is fertile in its own way . . . 

Its fertility bursts forth with the discovery of an unexpected gift: the courage to live more simply, to act more passionately, to love more fiercely.

What desert is calling you?

Inviting you to silence

Urging your transformation

Giving you a new voice

Promising an unexpected gift . . .

Questions to Ponder

Pondering these questions may help you explore the deserts you’ve experienced and the fertility you’ve discovered there.

  • What are the desert places you’ve encountered on your spiritual journey?
  • What is your experience of the desert of loneliness?
  • How have you experienced the desert of grief and tears?
  • Have you experienced the desert of mistakes and failure? If so, what was it like for you?
  • In what way has your experience of the desert invited you to let go, empty yourself, and leave behind everything that holds you back?
  • In what way have the deserts you’ve experienced been fruitful?