As I reflected and revisited on the three lessons (11, 12, and 13) of our History of Christian Spirituality, the term ‘desert experience’ boggled my mind. What is in the ‘desert experience’ that makes Christian Spirituality something to be admired of? Why is it something very important and unique? When we think and speak about ‘desert experience,’ a conglomeration of ideas and imageries could possibly popped up on our minds like “it is a hostile place”, “it is a place of hardship, suffering, hunger, thirst, and death,” “it is related to sadness, banishment, damnation, etc. etc.” Sounds pessimistic and cynical right? But for those spiritual fathers and mothers who lived in the desert as pilgrims in order to seek the face of God and to withdraw their selves from worldly affairs and interactions; ‘desert experience’ led them magnanimously into the bosom of God’s infinite love and mercy.
I realized, ‘desert experience’ is not something to ignore. It was considered as one of the most significant experiences of the spiritual fathers and mothers that highlights their struggles and asceticism with the desire to be converted according to commandments of God and to strive for perfection. As I try to imagine the experience of the spiritual fathers and mothers who lived in the desert in order to fulfill their heart’s desire, i.e. God, I ask myself; who will be gonna survive on that kind of experience? Even I myself will find it difficult to survive. However, spirituality, or to be more specific ‘desert spirituality’ is not all about survival but God. The true spirituality of the desert is radical, so striving with the ‘desert experience’ is not about what I am doing but what God is doing. Hence, ‘desert experience’ is all about struggling and discovering the impact, meaning, and implication of God’s love in our lives. But, I am not also taking away the significance of rest in ‘desert experience’. Actually, rest serves as the ‘secret ingredient’ for connoting ‘desert experience’ with a positive outlook. Hence, ‘desert experience’ is not a root for acedia or navel-gazing, but a pilgrimage towards the ultimate summit, i.e. God.
As I do my very best to relate what I have reflected about the ‘desert experience’ in my life, one thing has popped out my mind is this, how could ‘desert experience’ be relevant and appropriate in my present state? Actually, I realized, ‘desert experience’ is not a passé. It is something could be related on our daily struggles in attaining wholeness. I myself can attest that my ‘desert experiences’ has been weaknesses and shortcomings. Without weaknesses and shortcomings in life, how could I be able to recognize the significance and goodness of God into my life? How could I be able to love Him if I am not broken and fragile? Indeed, St. Paul is right in saying that our weakness is our strength in loving and following the footsteps of God. So, ‘desert experience’ is real and for everybody and not just only for the patristics, monastics, and mystics. I believe, the real growth and maturity lies on how we accept, validate, and ‘work out’ our own ‘desert experience/s’ which really brings us to be get closer with God.
So, do you want to know what true love means? This is what I learned from what I have reflected upon; true love is befriending our ‘desert experience/s’ in life. No matter how crucial, embarrassing, and disappointing our own ‘desert experience/s’ it is not a discouragement for us to love. True spirituality is all about loving, and without the presence of our own ‘desert experience/s’ in life it’s hard to love. Only in our own ‘desert experience/s’ we may be able to recognize that true love is God. God allows us to be ‘broken’ in order for us to be one with Him who also allow Himself every day to be like us.