Today I’m starting a new series called Wander Wednesday, where I’ll share destinations from Seattle to Rome and highlight their pilgrim appeal, whether it’s the birthplace of pesto or home to an ancient cathedral housing the relic of a saint. As time passes and the collection of destinations grows, my hope is that the Wander Wednesday series will become the perfect resource for the wandering heart in search for adventure!
destination: the desert
pilgrim appeal: silence, spaciousness, wilderness, mystery
The desert has been calling out to pilgrims and seekers for thousands of years, urging them to come, to wrestle, and to be transformed. From the Israelites 40 years of wandering to Jesus’ 40 days of fasting followed by temptation, the desert has long been known as an environment of personal growth and Sacred Encounter within many spiritual traditions.
In fact, the tradition of monasticism was birthed in the desert. Long ago, in response to the merging of the Christian faith with the Roman Empire, those who believed God was not found in a system of hierarchy and rules but instead found within fled to the desert to live in silence and solitude in pursuit of the Divine. These devotees became known as the desert mothers and fathers, and while they originally set out on their own, it wasn’t long until their way of living and experience of the Sacred drew followers into the desert to encounter its wonder for themselves. Once there, though these seekers were guided by the desert mothers and fathers, they discovered that the desert herself was the Divine teacher.
The desert is filled with wisdom and parallels to God, life, and our deepest selves. It is a place of unique and striking beauty, and yet it is also filled with great danger. You can be completely alone, yet at the same time feel utterly exposed. In this environment, you are no longer the center. You are simply a bystander in a land that has flourished in the same way for tens of thousands of years—a participant for only a brief moment in time.
The desert is a refining fire. The silence it provides brings relief to the urban dweller, and yet is quick to reveal your struggles, your loneliness, and your fear. The stillness of the desert invites you to be fully present, and as you slowly surrender, learning to simply watch and observe, you learn to also watch and observe your inner stirrings and the movement of the Divine.
Like the Sacred, the desert is always there waiting for you to seek it out, and its invitation is the same: come, sit, surrender, and simply be.
Have you had an experience of Sacred Encounter in the desert? What relief does the desert bring you? What fears or insecurities does it bring to the surface?