I went to mass for the first Sunday in Lent at St. Scholastica Monastery in Chicago, and one of the sisters, Patricia Crowley, spoke about the wilderness. She talked about how the desert is a place of physical extremes in terms of the changing climate, how it became a place for people to escape to, how it can be a place of danger if we don’t know the terrain, and how it can be a place of acute loneliness.
Spiritually speaking, the desert can also be a place of intimacy (Hosea) and disobedience (Psalm 78), a place of prayer and temptation, a place of transformation. The interesting thing is that what I heard her say was that the desert can be a place of temptation and victory.
Some time later I asked her for a copy of her homily because it spoke so loudly to me. She didn’t use the word victory in her notes, so maybe she improvised as she was speaking, or maybe the Lord wanted me to hear it that way.
My point is this: wildernesses exist in abundance. They differ in size and location, but chances are, you will come across one sooner or later. At times it feels like forty years, but what is important is that God speaks in the wilderness. He has led many people into it for a variety of reasons, maybe because some of us hear him better in the desert.
Intimacy. Victory. Transformation. How do we make it so that we don’t wither and die in the desert? Sr. Patricia also said, “we cannot survive in the desert if we take too much with us. In the desert we cannot thrive if we allow our minds to be cluttered.” Jesus willingly went into the desert—it was there He entered into deep fellowship with the Father. He did not refuse the Spirit’s invitation to go into the desert. My last quote from Sr. Patricia: “Not going into the desert will keep us from the truth.” Some of my favorite scriptures are in Isaiah, especially chapter 35.
“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. . . . Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. . . . and a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in the Way . . . . But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
The Lord will cause our dry hearts to break forth into streams. He will make a road in the wilderness for us to walk upon, and it will lead us into his presence. The wilderness is our Way of Holiness.
Tammy will have an essay included in the forthcoming book Soul Bare: Raw Reflections on Being Human, being published in 2016 by Inter Varsity Press.