Desert Times

— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —

It was about thirty-five years ago that I went through the open gate of an old Italian farm house, hearing remote laughter just to enter one of the best times in my life. I was looking for a time of rest, time of renewal during my studies; a place to refresh my soul, to fill my drained life reservoir and reconnect my busily running mind with my exhausted heart.

While walking through the semi-darkness of the rustic hallway I came closer and closer to the room of fellowship where about ten people were sitting around a huge table and having a simple lunch. I wasn’t sure what to say as I had just been turned down at the Franciscans in Assisi where I had originally hoped to find the well to quench my thirst for a life, a life to the full as Christ had promised (John 10:10). Speaking nearly no Italian didn’t help either to bring my confidence much beyond a shy “Buon giorno” when somebody unexpectedly replied “Herzlich willkommen! Setz dich zu uns, willst du mit uns essen?”

I had arrived at the convent of i piccoli fratelli di gesù, the little brothers of Jesus, in Spello. The little brothers, by that time there were a lot of little sisters sitting around the table as well, are an order inspired by the life of Charles de Foucauld who after different stages of his life ended living with the Tuareg in the Algerian Sahara. This remote little place in Spello had become their headquarters – full of people who had, like me, searched for a time-out in their busy lives. So, I spent a week with a few brothers: an Italian who didn’t want to serve, a female cook who had left Northern Africa for reasons I will never know and a German Catholic priest who had asked his bishop for a leave to rediscover the roots of his faith. We lived, worked and prayed together for a week.

Friday was “desert day” in remembrance of Charles de Foucauld’s time in the Sahara.

We all started the day with the morning prayer at 6:00 am and after 20 min of prayer left the convent to spend the whole day alone before returning for a shared dinner at 5:00 pm. Stepping out into the new day which had not even started I heard the birds singing during dawn. A sound I rarely hear these days. Desert is time – time to listen and hear even the whisper of God’s voice when your heart can tune in and is not overwhelmed by all the noise. Silence can be uncomfortable and often is, when you are not used to it, but after a whole day silently walking on Monte Subasio even normal conversation among people, after returning to the outskirts of Assisi on my way back, sounded like a loud invasion into the contemplative silence of my desert day.

As you enter the desert your thoughts are flying like crazy; everything comes up to catch your attention. All worries, all plans of the last days chase each other across the plain screen of your mind. Only slowly the stream of agenda, of unfinished tasks, unfulfilled desires, unforgiven hurts will give way to the open wide planes in which God can reach you. When your mind finally stops talking and listens. When your heart gets a chance to take a deep breath and open up. The desert becomes a place alone before God. It was forty days in the solitude and silence of the desert which prepared Jesus for his ministry. Lent is a chance to calm our days and tune into God’s promises, words which can only come alive when you give them the moment to dwell and grow with you.

It is probably also the simpleness of life in the desert. It is not rich, superfluous, but brings you back to the basic necessities. A desert doesn’t distract by a multitude of impressions, no fast-changing scenes, no rush hour, no subway or plane that suddenly spits you out in a completely different world. The desert allows your mind and heart to walk in step with your feet. Nowhere in the world you can see the stars at night more clearly. No other light distracts. It is here when gazing at the stars above, we realize the inconceivable greatness of our God and us as a tiny little spot in the vast universe. It has been one of these few moments of overwhelming awe, realizing that this same God has bent down to me and called me His child whom He loves and cares about. It was in the desert when God declared his covenant with Abraham whose descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 26:4). It was in the desert, where Moses met the great I am who I am in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).

Deserts are not comfortable or fun places to live. Thirst, hunger, parching heat are inseparable parts of the experience. While potentially crippling, God seems to be able to talk to us especially in such moments when we don’t rely on our own strength. Fasting is a desert attitude. It is in fasting that I am more alert. Days become much longer when you don’t prepare and eat regular meals.  Back in the convent, each bite of the simple meal we shared in the evening tasted so amazing. After a day in the desert, daily, small things otherwise taken for granted become blessings and touch our hearts. Such experiences make us truly thankful to the Creator of deserts as much as of green pastures.

Lent is meant to be a desert time, to disrupt our normal daily life and beg for a simple, attentive mindful life, taking a time out from our agenda and allowing God to prepare our heart and mind for Easter, so that we will truly be able to celebrate with each other joyfully and thankfully the great gift Jesus gave us when he brought us life through his death and resurrection.

May God bless our time of Lent, may He be able to reach you wherever you are and whatever you do so that you will come into His presence and hear and believe when He says: Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). Amen.

The ACF Midweek Meditations
are written by a diverse group of our church members with the intention to seek God’s fingerprints in our lives. They range from somber to humorous and are inspired by all facets of live and faith. Written by ordinary people from all walks of life, they reflect a wide range of Christian backgrounds and spiritualities.

Each week’s text portrays the individual viewpoint of its author. They might not always resonate with everyone, and are not meant to be understood as representing the Anglican Church Freiburg as a whole. Yet, as a church that is aiming to ‘Build a Community of Grace’ we seek to practice learning from and listening to one another.

We pray that these humble ponderings add a small spark of blessing to your week.

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