Reflections From The Desert
According to the Bible, the wilderness may be the most important spiritual training ground in one’s relationship with God. Moses met God in the wilderness through a burning bush. Elijah heard God’s still, small voice when he fled to the wilderness. David spent significant time in the wilderness both as a shepherd and as a fugitive. John the Baptist lived in the wilderness for a significant portion of his life. Even Jesus, before starting his three-year ministry, spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. As I read and meditated on these Biblical accounts, I began to desire to have my own wilderness experience, and in October 2015, I had the opportunity to do just that. I want to share with you what I learned and experienced during those four days alone in Joshua Tree National Park, for it was during those four days when God opened my ears and mind to hear his voice.
Within the first few hours of arriving at my destination, my sensitivity and love for the glory of God already began to grow. As I gazed out over the horizon, my spirit was drawn towards the beautiful mountains and the wondrous thunderclouds like some gravitational pull. As wonder took ahold of my heart, I began to reflect on the universality of wonder. It appeared to me that all mankind experiences wonder. This reflection brought my thoughts back to a paper I wrote the previous semester. Through Romans 1:18-23, I was trying to answer, “what is the knowledge of God that is evident through creation and all of mankind is without excuse of knowing?” In this paper, I concluded that this knowledge is a felt ignorance or emptiness. The fact that mankind universally feels empty, unfulfilled, and useless points to the reality that man is supposed to be full, filled, and useful. I argued that this would make man aware of a Creator. However, my reflections on wonder made me realize that I may not have given a full picture in my paper. One of my favorite authors, Thomas Traherne, talks about how all people are drawn by wonder to something they do not know, which he concludes to be “the fellowship of the Mystery which from the beginning of the World hath been hid in God”. He later elaborates on the fellowship of the mystery saying it “is not only the contemplation of [God’s] Love in the work of redemption…but the end for which we are redeemed; a communion with Him in all His Glory.” I think the knowledge that Paul talks about in Romans 1:20 consists of recognition of both the feelings of emptiness and of wonder. Emptiness teaches us that we ought to be filled by something. Wonder teaches us that there is something outside of us that can fulfill us. Doesn’t it make sense that the thing mankind is universally drawn towards ought to be the same thing that fills the universal emptiness in man? I believe that man is universally drawn towards “the fellowship of the Mystery” through wonder, and “communion with God in all his glory” is the missing piece to the hole in man’s heart.
In the wilderness, my mind stretched out towards God more than it ever has before.
However, my mind did not grow under the power of reason but under the power of the imagination. The wilderness and solitude are the ideal soils for the nurture of the imagination. Without the ordinary distractions of social media, school, and people, my mind stretched itself until the small, common things of nature became distractions to me. I found enjoyment in having my mind active in the observation and contemplation of ants or the clouds. According to Scripture, Nature is not just a setting but a character. Nature may be in a frustrated state (Rom. 8:20), but it can still reveal the glory of its Creator and teach us about Him. I believe that through the imagination I was being trained by Nature to enjoy the world as God enjoys the world.
Looking back over this retreat, I would say that the greatest lesson I learned is that God most enjoys speaking and revealing himself through the love of people. Prior to this retreat, I was convinced before that God must be more plainly found in the wilderness than in the commotion of ordinary life. On the retreat, I spent a substantial amount of time being still and quiet, trying to listen to God’s voice. The results of my mediations shocked me: I didn’t hear God at all. In fact, I learned more of God through observing the ants than in meditation. I was confused and even a bit frustrated with God. Amidst my frustration, God spoke. The Lord reminded me that the Spirit of God is within me, and I do not need to be in the right posture, mindset, or location to hear from Him. Furthermore, the Lord reminded me that He speaks through word and action, and since I have the Spirit of God within me, He can speak through my own words and actions. When I speak words of life into someone, I am a vessel for the voice of God, and both the recipient and I are blessed by the word. If I want to hear the voice of God, I don’t need to go to the wilderness to hear it. All I need to do is ask for someone to pray for me, and God will speak through him or her to bless me. I went on this retreat for the main purpose of hearing from God in the wilderness, and I learned that God’s voice is best heard through the love and prayers of people.
God does reveal himself through creation, and through the imagination, man perceives the glory of God, producing the feeling of wonder. However, I am convinced that God most enjoys revealing himself through the love of people. This means that God finds more enjoyment in two people praying for each other than in the most magnificent sunrise. Through the love of people, the Spirit knits together the bonds of unity between individuals making them one body. On this retreat to the wilderness, I learned that God most enjoys revealing himself through his Church. My life was changed by my time in the wilderness. I cannot look up at the stars or feel the warmth of the sun’s rays without learning more about God and His Creation. God made the world so beautiful that we ought to learn how to enjoy it as our Father in Heaven does. Although Nature can teach you many things, I see that the end of all its lessons is to teach you how to love God and people more so that the Church can grow in love and unity.