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Desert spirituality – Br. David Allen

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When I read over the Propers for this Eucharist the Jeremiah passage immediately appealed to me.  I have heard many sermons on the Gospel text about the rich man and Lazarus, I may have preached one myself, but not recently.  As I said in the sermon, upon reading the Jeremiah passage I could see the several desert settings in my mind’s eye.  In fact I even have several pictures of the three sites that I mention in the sermon, in the mini-album of pictures I took during my time in Israel/Palestine in 2006.  I also have undeveloped film in the camera I took with me to Las Vegas this January Away Week, waiting to finish the rest of the roll of film, pictures of some Joshua Trees in the Mohave Desert, and of the two Thai monks who took me there.   I don’t think I ever took any pictures of any of the desert areas in Eastern or central Washington State.  I was too young when there was still a lot of desert land there, and since the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam and the development of Lake Roosevelt, much of the former desert land has been developed into irrigation districts and farm land.  Finally, as a monk much of our monastic spirituality is based on the ancient Desert Fathers and Mothers.  There is still provision in modern monastic life for Desert Experiences.

David Allen, SSJE

davidallen_1Jer. 17:5-8

Our Reading from the Prophet Jeremiah today presents us with a contrast and comparison.  Those who trust only in mere mortals are like a dry shrub in the desert. Those who trust in the Lord, shall be like a tree planted by water that sends out roots, and its leaves stay green.

When I read those verses from Jeremiah I was able to picture desert areas that I knew in Eastern Washington State where I grew up.

I could picture areas of barren sandy ground, with scattered clumps of dry sage brush and some dry tumble weeds. I also remembered in other parts of the same region lush green trees along rivers and streams and by the lakeshores.

I recall similar scenes from my visit to the Holy Land a few years ago; looking out from the Mount of Olives toward the rocky Plains of Moab, and seeing vast areas of stark desert along the Road to Jericho.  In a different place I saw green trees flourishing along the banks of the Jordan River at Yardenit near where it leaves Lake Galilee.

There are different ways of looking at desert experiences.  What looks like a place of desolation can become a place of revelation and spiritual growth.

God guided Abram to such a desert place to reveal his covenant to him. (Gen. 17:1-2)

Isaiah speaks of the desert as a place where the glory of the Lord may be seen. (Isa. 35:1-2)

Recently on a visit to Nevada I was taken to see part of the Mohave Desert. There many desert plants such as Joshua Trees can be seen.  Those trees are a kind of cactus that grows in grotesque shapes.  The limbs of those trees have bunches of dry looking spikes at the ends.

The young Thai Buddhist monk who took me to see that place told me that when he had visited there before, those dry looking branches were covered with beautiful fragrant blossoms.  We were there at the wrong time of year!  To see the beauty one needs to go at the right time, and in the right frame of mind.

Those same words apply to us when we seek spiritual growth and understanding.  The right time will be when we seek for the right reasons, arising from our desire to love God and to love one another.

When you have found yourself in a desert place what did you find there? Did you seek the Lord?

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