desert treasures

I make this comment:  I am convinced. The present day church is in need of another counter-cultural movement birthed in the desert places.

Someone graciously replies concerned that I might be thinking to improve a relationship birthed in love I need to “have a time of lack and misery (usual implication of desert).”

I am so thankful for that reply and the kind soul who sent it.  Is lack and misery really the usual implication of the desert?  I am so sorry if it is.  I have walked long with the desert fathers of old, the early church mystics and the Celtic saints and I do suppose they have shaped my view of desert places and seasons.  Deserts, to me, are not places of rocky barrenness but of raw beauty.

Might I share with you how I have come to know the desert?

In my initial comment above, I am referring historically to the Desert fathers and mothers: those radical contemplatives who escaped the Constantinean reforms of 313 AD that imposed a political empire on the church.  They instead embraced monasticism not as a religious vocation so much as a counter-cultural stance against the power structures taking over the fabric of their faith.

They embraced an ebb and flow of solitude and community bringing them into the depths of intimacy with the Father and authentic relationship with one another. Yes some of them took asceticism to the extreme and I am certainly not advocating that.  But for most, it was not about self abasement at all; it was about finding sanity and freedom from a politicized church system run a muck.  And in turn their desert journeys inspired other generations, especially the Celtic monastics a few centuries later.

There is a story about the meeting of two desert monks.  A younger monk seeks out an older monk reciting all of his spiritual disciplines. Obviously there must have been something lacking because he comes with the question in his heart, “What else can I do?”  The older monk reportedly lifts his hands towards heaven and his fingers become like lamps of fire.  He replies, “If you will, you can become all flame.

Desert journeys are truly about that.  About becoming all flame.

Desert seasons are not miserable seasons of God withdrawing or being absent. Far from it. They are seasons of Him presencing, presenting Himself differently in order to draw us deeper into His realm. Deserts are places of burning bushes and miracles of provision. They are precious intimate seasons where reformers are shaped and nations are birthed. They are the places we are wooed and spoken tenderly to, given back our vineyards, where we lay our head upon the rock and meet with angels.  Deserts are where the valley of achor becomes a door of Hope.  They are the places we come up out of leaning on Him Who is the Lover of our souls.

Yes there are times God seems a bit far, His hand a bit slow for our liking.  But He really isn’t… ever far or slow.

As someone who loves her children very much, there are times I withdraw my “hand” in some ways when they are too focused on what they get from it.  “Mama ana deeru arabiiiiiya,”  Mama I want a truck.  I want candy.  Do you give your children everything they want?  You see my point.

I never withdraw relationship, but there are seasons that our interactions change in order to cause them to mature and value the relationship, not just what they can get from it.  If I didn’t help my dear ones grow, I would not be acting in love.

I think sometimes we confuse, misinterpret God, in His loving intimate desire that we grow into mature sons and daughters, changing the way He interacts with us as a withdrawal of relationship, an absence. When actually all it is an invitation to seek a whole new level of intimacy beyond anything we have experienced thus far. Deserts are the incredible places where God is not at all absent, He is very present. He is simply presenting Himself to our awareness differently.

So sweet friend, may you run to the deserts knowing burning bushes of commissioning, deep wells of compassion and holy encounters where you are named and you meet God face to face are waiting for you there.  It is from this place reformers being shaped to prepare the way once again for the Lord.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning got it right in my estimation:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush aflame with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

I thought I might come back and slip in a little surprise that didn’t make it into the initial post. A printable with a little prayer just for you.  Please feel free to download it for your desktop or to print.  I pray you are truly blessed this week and become all flame for Him.  {Simply click on the image.  Then click again to see the full size.  Right click/save as and there you go.}