Desert Spirituality – Silence, Solitude, Simplicity

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Desert Spirituality – Silence, Solitude, Simplicity

Reflection on the First Sunday of Lent, March 13, 2011 By Sister Mary Christa Kroening, OSB

Many of these thoughts are gleaned from the hermit, Sister Jeremy Hall, OSB, Trappist monk, Charles Cummings, O.C.S.O. and Anselm Gruen, OSB

             The desert is a dry, dusty, desolate place.  Our winter landscape covered with snow in some ways resembles a desert of sorts.  The monastic tradition of desert connotes caves, silence, solitude and a withdrawal from people.  The desert offers a place for inner reflection and contemplation to encounter our relationship with God and self.

            The desert can be a setting for deepened, renewed inner life, but it can as easily be life-threatening.  The desert demands decisions, choices, and we have to make the right ones or our lives are in danger.  In the desert we are stripped down to essentials. (Hall p.60 It is a place where one cannot hide from one’s own truth.  The desert is also the place of the greatest closeness to God.  (A.G. p.37)   The desert in this biblical and spiritual sense is never a place to stay.  It is a situation to go through…you journey on and out. (Hall p. 67)             When Jesus was praying at the time of his baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon him…he was led by the Spirit into the desert….There he remained forty days. (NAB Matthew 4:1:11)   When the devil left Jesus alone, Angels came and ministered to him.  The desert of temptation became the mountain of paradise. (A.G. p. 37)            The desert experience is our spiritual purification for a new life of freedom and love in the land that God will show us.  Like the Prophet Hosea (NAB Hosea 2:16) the Lord God promised Israel that they will be led into the wilderness, where God will speak to her heart.  (A.G. p .37)  Some modes of desert experience are daily routine, loneliness, and meaninglessness. (C.C. p.23)  We seek to discover new spiritual energy from the depths of our own hearts, which are like a hidden oasis planted there by God.


            The same psalms, same readings, same work can lead to boredom.  However, our attitude can be changed with a bit of wonderment and imagination to appreciation of the ordinary in life.  Can I learn to find value in the humblest tasks?  Do I accept the deserts into which the Lord has led me? (C.C. p.41)


            Many lonely people try to hide their loneliness by forced sociability and cheerfulness. (C.C. p.42)   The desert of loneliness is a reminder of our human condition as strangers and exiles. (C.C.p.55)


            Meaning makes life worth living.  To accept the desert experience, one must let go of over-control and let things unfold with inner truth revealing new meanings and the deepening of the mystery of life. (C.C.p.61)  Lent offers us an opportunity to identify with the desert experience of Jesus.


            In the desert I might not know what I want, where I am going, or who I can trust. (C.C. p.101)  Temptations in the desert experience reveal what a person is made of, one’s weak spots and one’s depth of commitments and principles. (C.C. p.102)   Some temptations might be laziness, letting things go, sensual inclinations, worry over health or grandiose plans for the future. (C.C.p.104) The desert experience lays bare one’s inner emptiness, detaches one and can simplify a person’s life down to the bare essentials. Do I acknowledge my complete dependence on God? (C.C.p.105)  Do I trust the power and presence of God in my life? (C.C.p.108) Do I prefer the easy way, the path of least resistance and the most gratification? (C.C.p.109) Do I value money, time, and prestige more than people? (C.C.p.111)


            In the desert of truth one learns to communicate with God in a dark, loving, intuitive, experiential mode of knowledge.  Perhaps one cannot pray to God in a former way.  Now the invitation is to pray being less dependent on images, concepts, ideas, or mental representations. (C.C. p.126)  In emptiness, the truth of one’s own inner poverty and wretchedness leads one to total dependence on God. (C.C. p.127)  The desert experience of aridity in prayer, along with an intense hunger and thirst for God alone, is a normal development in Christian spiritual life. (C.C. p. 127)


            Silence is for loving receptivity and response to all the ways God chooses to be manifest to us.  But silence is also a loving, attentiveness and receptivity to our own true selves.  It takes silence to know one’s own depths….in the very center of our being. (Hall  p. 74)  Maybe God seems not only absent, but that God has rejected me, abandoned me. (C.C. p. 128)  Such prayer confronts the mystery of God’s absence and presence.  However, God’s transcendent silence can include a caring presence of nearness. (C.C. pp. 129-130)

How can I move from resistance to acceptance? Do I grumble and murmur like the Israelites searching for the Promised Land? Do I look with compassionate rather than critical eyes on any desert experience? Does my trust in God outweigh the fear of emptiness?


Desert of affluence and greed. Desert of challenge and fear. Desert of exile and war. Desert of poverty and pain. Desert of hunger and homelessness, possessions, and selfishness. Desert of health issues, bodily weakness and infirmity.

May the desert experience of this Lent transform us, help us to identify with Jesus, and bring our hearts to full bloom by Easter time.


The joy of life is living it and doing things of worth, In making bright and fruitful the entire desert spots of earth. In facing odds and mastering them and rising from defeat, And making true what once was false, and what was bitter, make sweet. For only you know perfect joy whose little bit of soil Is richer ground than what it was when you began to toil.

Author unknown and adapted for this event. From The Wonder of Comfort   (P.H.)


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Desert Spirituality Silence, Solitude, Simplicity Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, 2011 By Sister Mary Christa Kroening, OSB


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* (C.C.)  Cummings, Charles, OCSO, Spirituality and The Desert Experience, Copyright © 1978 Rev. Charles Cummings,                   OCSO; New Jersey: Dimension Books * (A.G.)  Gruen, Anselm, OSB  Heaven Begins Within You, Copyright © 1999 New York: Crossroads Publishing Company;                  English translation from the German * (Hall)  Hall, Sister Jeremy, OSB, Silence, Solitude, Simplicity, Copyright © 2007 Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press * (P.H.)  Hobe, Phyllis, editor, The Wonder of Comfort, Copyright © Phyllis Hobe, Philadelphia, PA, Bridgebooks * (NAB)  New American Bible, Copyright © 1970 Washington D.C. Confraternity of Christian Doctrine

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