Entering the Desert

As expected, the Scottish Episcopal Church has now suspended all public worship until further notice. For local congregations, this means that we must find new ways of maintaining our life as a community of faith by offering care, support, prayer and worship in ways that will draw on all our creative resources.

Many have commented that, especially as we’re already in the time of Lent, we are entering a spiritual desert, by which I mean that we are entering a privileged place of spiritual opportunity, a place of interiority and trust, a place where external characteristics of religious observance are largely stripped away. Our spiritual ancestors knew this place well and we can still draw on their wisdom, whether it’s the monastic pioneers of the deserts of the Middle East, the medieval Carmelites or modern explorers like Charles de Foucauld or, in a more interior sense, Simone Weil. But there are also fellow-travellers from other traditions, and as we begin this new phase of desert life, I offer one such companion – the poet and translator David Hinton.

Image result for david hinton deserts

Hinton is best known for his work in translating Chinese poetry and religious (Taoist and Buddhist) texts but he also writes his own poetry and prose reflections on the natural world. He has a lovely sequence of poems about the deserts he knows best in the West of the United States. Like all good desert explorers, he knows that there is no real division between the inward and outward deserts – one intensifies our awareness of the other. I offer a couple of excerpts:

Empty mind
is a mirror
gazing our, the old
masters say. It
seems easy

enough. But all
night long, stars shimmer
light-years
deep in my gaze. Who

could be that

vast? And at dawn
I’m sure
it’s not me

mirroring
desert, but wide-
open desert
mirroring whatever

it is
I am.

And here’s another one that appeals to me:

Yellow sky-
parched grasses
and sky. The less

this desert
is, the more I

want to live my life
over again. Ideas

confuse
me. They
leave every-
thing out.

It seems to me that we can trust this time of desert wandering to be a teacher for us. More than that, we can trust that it is also holy ground, a place where the Eternal meets us and invites us deeper into the mystery of I Am.

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