One of the surprising gifts of journal writing is that it provides a record of what has happened in your life, how you have felt and what you have thought at various crucial moments. I picked up an old journal yesterday, and out fell several handwritten pages from August 31, 2011 -- four years ago today. I was surprised by my musings, and the words took me back to that time. Theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote, "Life is lived forward, but understood backward." Today, I understood backward. Four years ago I was in a tumultuous point in life, and I went back home to the desert. There, I began to see my way forward again. Perhaps, the best thing for this blog is simply to share the actual words from a couple of days from that journal:
"The night has passed and I've drunk in the desert air. This is exactly where I need to be. I work in my mother's little bedroom turned into an office. I sleep in the the bed where she breathed her last breath and died in my arms. I feel a deep sadness and a deep comfort -- a sense of loss, a sense of peace. A sense of being near the abyss, a sense of being held in a Russian style 'poustinia.'
Perhaps,...I am here to sit in silent patience for the answers to come. I don't think I've ever been in such an ambiguous or frightening point in life. So many things have contributed to my feeling the uncertainty of what is for me right now. Still, I know the desert will give me what I need -- even if it is simply more ambiguity, deeper suffering, or profound emptiness. Even if that is what is given, there will be answers if I dig deeply enough into those seeming wastelands. Change always involves those -- it's just that the desert doesn't make it easy to deny them!
As I hung clothes out this morning very early, the heat had already descended with ferocity. It's the kind of heat that burns away all that is useless -- it stings the eyes and singes the soul. It is a kind of heat that purifies and clarifies what is illusory. It is the kind of heat that first wooed me to the desert love affair I have had since I was a child. I sometimes rue its ruthlessness, but never truly wish for its absence.
One piece of clarity that seemed to emerge for me is that reading the signs of our lives is a dicey business! I have these days to attend to the signs, but it's ever so easy to misread them, ignore some while clinging to others, seeing and attributing great significance to some while discounting others. It seems that the crucial task is to remain open to it all -- to place all the signs, and even non-signs, in an even playing field, where they can be considered equally and without bias... The task of staying open is a task that requires heroic effort because it means being detached from all in order to see the truth of any.
"It is clear that the desert is the home of my soul. There's really no explaining it -- it is something esoteric, mystical, undeniable. My soul simply breathes more deeply, opens more fully, and surrenders more completely in the harsh environment of stone and sand, heat and aridity, sparseness and austerity. Many would see these as deprivations. For me, they are the greatest gifts. When I drink them in, it is as if the thirst of my soul is finally quenched. So, I have had a little bit of drink here and I am not eager to leave my wateringhole! It's odd that in the desert that lacks water, I find my most nourishing liquid.
I still do not feel clear about my way forward; what I have gained these past days is a measure of trust that had been misplaced or lost. Nothing in my situation has changed, yet I know the seed of faith is being nourished in the dark and invisible place. "All can never be utterly lost," I often preach...it isn't until that concept drops deep within as into a bottomless well that hope can be born. I have been experiencing an uncanny stillness -- holiness -- here. The desert always offers me that, of course, but these days have felt somehow different. It's not as if I have anything to show for them -- only the seed and the stillness that has gone deep within. I feel greedy for more of that, but perhaps, that too, is meted out in measured beats in the Divine Economy. I will try to be attentive now to what still may come -- knowing that staying patient and still is the call of heaven right now. Be patient and still."
So, there are a few journal ramblings from 4 years ago. I honestly do not even remember what felt so tumultuous to me at that time, but what I do know, is that the same truths I learned then apply now. Maybe in those truths, you will find some nourishment for your own soul.
I leave tomorrow to go back to the desert for some days. My soul is again thirsty, and I am ready to hear the voice of God in the emptiness of desert sand. May I be open to the signs, and stay detached enough to hear new words of truth. I pray the same for you, wherever you are...