Holy week has begun. Day by day we’re taking steps towards the cross.
But I can’t quite let go of Lent. There’s something powerful in that “desert” season, where life is stripped back to make room for God.
I was learning about the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) recently. From the time of Emperor Constantine, Christianity got a whole new image. Persecution was exchanged with privilege; Christianity became the faith of the Roman Empire. This new world presented its own temptations as Christianity became a popular and political choice. So Christians like Anthony, Syncletica, Marcarius and Amma Sarah made their way to the desert, to live a different way.
Thomas Merton (20th C Monk) said these desert saints saw society as a shipwreck where every person had to swim for their lives. They believed that “to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster.”
It got me thinking about the shipwreck named “society” today.
In former years, swimming from the shipwreck seemed a little more obvious. It mean to be the sober one, the no- sex- please- I’m- a- single- Christian one, the yes- I- did-just- say- I- was- going- to- church- tonight one. Today, reflecting on Merton’s observations of the desert Fathers and mothers, have I even noticed that society is a shipwreck? That its values and aspirations cannot give me stability or safety? Or do I gently, imperceptibly absorb what society suggests about money, power, beauty, worth, relationships, Jesus? It’s hard to tell, which I why I so need the desert.
For me, the desert has a harsh, austere feel as I leave behind my own personal comforts. Yet the emptiness creates space and time for God and me. With him, I notice wounds that didn’t quite heal. I see where I truly go to meet my needs. I see attitudes that need to be addressed. Again. I let go of pieces of the shipwreck. I’m also more attentive to the global concerns, more aware of about my community, more challenged about my response. God speaks, sometimes without saying a word.
We can’t all spend a decade or two in the desert like some of these desert saints! But perhaps their example inspires me make a little desert space in my often cluttered world .Not just for Lent, but for life.