The Modern Desert Dweller

The ancient desert mystics, those desert dwellers of the past, seem distant and disconnected to modern life. When we are wedded to our devices, spend hours getting to and fro in our zippy cars, and barely have time to sit down and eat a square meal with our families in the evening, we live a life nearly imperceptible to those desert Ammas and Abbas who lived as communal, contemplative ascetics. Yet when we embark on a path to connect more deeply to the Divine, listening to these desert dwellers can teach us much.

In Alan Jones’ Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality, he identifies the “three great imperatives” to desert spirituality—Look, Weep and Live, a simple, beautifully succinct way of describing the contemplative path. When we are tasked to move through life with such intentionality, it can be life-changing. Those of us who seek to embrace the contemplative path, we can become modern “desert dwellers.”

To “Look” means we not just notice, but we are present to what we see. When I “Look,” it takes vulnerability, self-awareness, and courage. It isn’t often easy to look—indeed, the path of least resistance calls us to look away instead. But to Look means to allow the Divine to breathe through me—to be present and aware as a precious one in the eyes of the Most Precious One. I am blessed when I choose to Look, but for me it takes a great amount of effort. Everydayness—like those devices or that commute or that to-do list–gets in the way of embracing and soaking in the power of this essential step.

To “Weep” means to emotionally engage with what we are present to. When I “Weep,” I am bathed by the tears of my Foremothers. I sense them when I allow myself to be embraced by the wholesome Truth of grief, pain and release. My earliest memories of Catholicism is of the stunning Passion—the remembering of and holding ourselves accountable to our own pain and the pain of the collective. When we Look, then Weep, we allow ourselves to be cleansed. Jones shows us that when we Weep, the mercy of God is present (p. 100). Instead of considering the Divine a metaphorical parental figure that requires us to bend at knee in order to earn grace or wisdom, this imperative to Weep is the coming home via the embodiment of my most truthful self.

To “Live” is embarking on our Divine Path. When I “Live,” I am acting out of a higher call to face both my essential self and the incredible collective Wisdom. I “Live” this way by embracing humility with hope and trust that I have the tools I need to make it in this world. I further Live through acknowledging my limitations and noticing how Shadow shows up to teach me what I need to know. When I embrace my own flaws and center myself on self-forgiveness and compassion, I am able to project these feelings outward and promote peace in my relationships and community.

The Desert Way of contemplation is one that challenges us to become self-aware, to strip away our defenses and increase our ability to connect with others on an honest and humble way. We human beings often organize ourselves around a center or paradigm in order to have an effective path through the Way, which grounds us in a sense of divine truth or faith, and desert spirituality can be a part of our journey. And when we are grounded, we are blessed with peace—even in our commute in that zippy car.