The Wilderness Experience Within our Soul, written August 29, 2000
Perhaps the original wilderness experience occurred when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt in what is called the Exodus experience.
God sent neither an experienced tour guide nor a bus to make the exit easy. Instead, He sent a simple man who could barely speak. But this man had one quality that impressed God - Faith.
It is in this vein that we see ourselves, moving from one condition to the next. If our direction were just being able to walk or run to the next arena of life, there would be no real quality to what we would find. The reason being that if there is no challenge to life’s goals, there will be no appreciation of the achievements.
As we approach our goal or make an exodus from where we are to where we’re going, we may question what is encountered along the journey. We’ll most likely experience, what I term, a triad of difficulties. These are “Emptiness, Loneliness, and Dryness.”
This is the wilderness or emptying of us to allow God to enter our souls. It can be the most trying of times since we are not meant to be alone. Yet, to let the Lord come into our soul, we must, even for a short time, become void of unnecessary clutter. The soul will now ‘feel alone’. Even when other people surround us, we’ll still be alone in our feelings and innermost thoughts. No one else can enter this state. It is ours to cherish and live.
An unquenchable thirst will arise within us that water won’t satisfy. Only the presence of God’s gentle touch and care can refresh our soul.
God attempted to bring this fact home to the Israelites during their time in the desert. It is my opinion that their wilderness experience would have been shortened by hundreds of years had they allowed God to satisfy their thirst.
Now, our thirst can sometimes be found within ourselves. The desert isn’t miles away or only for someone unfortunate enough to be stranded there. It lies within and is a good place to look for God. He is there.
July 1, 2016
I have chosen this theme due to a directed retreat with a close priest friend of mine even before the above date. Mark Pappan became a confidant and confessor for me and guided me into the essence of finding God in the recesses of my own persona. Fr. Ed Bunchek also was responsible for my trek into this very sometimes unknown area within ourselves, and both priests were responsible for my continued journey into the wilderness that exists within us.
This journey each of us must take and consequently share with others is not mysterious but could become a mystery once we delve into the silent arena of the mind and soul.
The terms emptiness, loneliness, and dryness have become a mantra of sorts for me as they do require deep meditation and as Thomas Merton describes it it can be an opening to God in a way never before looked into until we take the first step of an empty soul, alone in our thoughts, and feeling the deep thirst that will surely ensue upon us.
From Thomas Merton I wrote previously the following excerpts.
“We do not go into the desert to escape people, but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good.”
“The truest solitude is not something outside you, not an absence of people or of sound around you; it is an abyss opening in the center of your own souls. And this abyss of interior solitude is a hunger that will never be satisfied with any created thing. The only way to find solitude is by hunger and thirst, sorrow and poverty, and desire. When one discovers solitude, they are empty, as if being emptied by death.”
“It is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. Here is where you find act without motion, labor that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity.”
“We can say that the solitude needed for contemplation is an interior and spiritual thing. Also, it is possible to live a deep and peaceful interior solitude even in the midst of the world and its confusion. But this truth is sometimes abused in religion. There are people dedicated to God whose lives are filled with restlessness, and have no real desire to be alone. In practice, their lives are devoured by activities and strangled with attachments. Interior solitude is impossible for them. They fear it, and do everything to escape it. These people are great promoters of useless work; organizing meetings. printing circulars, writing letters, talking on the telephone for hours in order to gather a hundred people in a large room where they will fill the air with smoke, make a great deal of noise, roar at one another, clap their hands and stagger home at last, patting one another on the back with assurance they have all done great things to spread the Kingdom of God. If you would find solitude in God, learn to be alone first.”
Enter into the Wilderness
I. There is definitely a need to retreat into the desert which resides within each of us. A certain irony exists for us if we wish to find some connection to holiness that always seems to elude us. Yet there are contained here the essential items necessary to discover just what the journey means in relation to seeking what so many saints, mystics, and contemplatives have known for centuries; what I call “A period of Dryness.” You of course must want this, or it just becomes an exercise in futility.
A. Emptiness; the same emptying out that Merton refers to, but even more; you must make room for the Lord to work in his own way with an empty shell depending on him only, and allowing yourself to be filled beyond your wildest imaginings. What you’ll discover won’t be anything you’d dreamed of, but a new outlook for your life, devoid of so much unnecessary baggage that can only weigh you down.
B. Loneliness; many saints have spoken of this phenomenon within their own lives, as necessary to find the needed closeness with God. We must seek time to avoid what the world would consider essential for life, when these attachments make us feel secure, superior or without the need for anyone else. It is when this certain loneliness becomes part of our existence that we can be consoled only in God’s presence, with only God as the consoler and God embracing the seeming loss from others’ presence, that meaning can take root within us.
C. Dryness; how often we have suffered the loss of something close to us, that it has left the taste of sand or a dry mouth without anything satisfying our internal desert, and It is during times such as these that we want to cry out loudly asking for some relief from what is not understandable to us, not wanted or needed-from our own perspective. Yet, this is the only way to become open enough to allow God’s soothing balm an opportunity to touch our innermost needs and refresh the soul that is now ready to receive the hand of God and find real understanding of who He is.
II. Usually there are certain steps we can take to search for this needed fulfillment that almost always can be found with a sense of unfulfillment.
A. Acceptance; here is the most difficult element in becoming emptied of needless baggage, if we are to make room for the presence of God in our muddled lives. “Serenity” is that thought which states; “Lord, grant me the courage to change those things that can be changed, the humility to accept those that can not, and the wisdom to recognize the difference between them.” Now, I tell you go one step beyond fighting with yourself, even when it means change is required, but only if your desire is to reach above all that seems to be holding you from an interior closeness with God; call it passiveness in a world that looks on such as passe’ and not essential to growth or real justice being served in the Christian Community. Even this will become excess baggage and be one item holding the soul back, and never allowing it the total freedom to reach out touching and knowing the warmth of God as known only to the saints and mystics.
B. Sensitivity; the next tool for discovering a world that centers in on itself and does not allow for a deep sense of love to permeate within the soul, then reaches out to the same world of need and deep hurt with a compassion that knows no end. So many become the center of themselves filling up their time with self-concerns, needs, and worries, that even if they were to attempt some sort of reaching out, they could not because of no room left for the required graces to house them within their very beings.
C. Hunger; to know that only God is able to satisfy all our needs and give us a special refreshment when we become thirsty and totally dependent on a power beyond our reach. Only then will we understand the dryness and its meaning; only then will the desert experience come alive within our lives and existence. Only then shall we know God as he really is; one who cares, listens, and answers.