I had planned a rather long paper on professionalism and ethics in the church, but I quickly became jaded and upset over something that happened at my internship site – something few people in our varied societies get the chance to embrace, let alone experience. My internship is at a site where I can give back to my community as was once given to me so many years ago. I work with kids and on rare occasions adults, who have been thrown away by their parents or else sold into a very dark and dangerous underworld; again, not something many people even know exists. One case, in particular, hit me hard and at the termination of the counseling relationship, I cried deeply from my soul.
Rarely have I experienced moments in my life where I cry so deeply that I, in the end, challenge the existence of my Divine Savior and God. This was one of those times and with the help of a dear friend and confidant, I was able to work through some of the horrors of this particular case. More importantly, though, I was able to work through my relationship with the Divine and heal through the pain I was experiencing my “desert moment”.
I like the analogy of the desert. Having lived in Arizona for a few years I can honestly say I know a dry-spell well. I know, too, the depths of torment from flash floods and dust storms. But as in life, the desert blooms when it receives just the right amount of water and nutrients. It becomes a vibrant and color filled world that is both dangerous and glorious at the same time. It all depends on our outlook and what we’re prepared to deal with at the moment.
In the desert, one knows to be on the watch for snakes and scorpions – it becomes automatic after a while. When that happens, one can enjoy the beauty of the desert for what it really is – awesome. As is in the desert, so is in our own lives.
We all have deserts deep inside us where we wander alone, vulnerable, mortal. Admittedly, why would any of us want to face our darkest moments? Because we are never alone – we journey to find our highest good through those who have gone before us. But first we must recognize our need to be transformed.
Even our Christ had +His own desert experience. Little is said of his 40-day ritual except: “1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (BibleGateway.com, Matthew 4:1-2). We can only imagine his hunger and pain, the animals he may have encountered, the rough cold nights and blistering heat, and the final humiliation of being tested by the great deceiver. But, as can we all, +He found his center – his core being – and walked out of the desert ready to embark on a necessary journey of trial and transformation. If we use the Christ as an example of how to live our lives then our desert moments become a transformative process. That process involves deep introspection, change, and eventual release of unhealthy habits whether mental, emotional, or spiritual. That almost sounds like a Lenten theme, but we have changed Lent to be about giving up chocolate or making additional New Year’s resolutions: and if that works for you then spectacular, but if not perhaps start looking at Lent through the eyes of our Christ – an opportunity for deep internal awareness and a chance for transformation and redemption.
Just as there are flowers in the desert, there are flowers in our own lives. Sometimes they are easy to find and at other times more difficult or far and few between. But they are there waiting for us to open our eyes or for us to pause at the side of the road to rest and regain our strength. They are there waiting for the nourishing rain and nutrient rich fertilizer. They are there waiting for us to realize they’ve been there all the while.
Sometimes flowers bloom only in the darkness.
The Rev. Father Kenneth Nelan is the pastor of the Sacred Wandering Pastoral Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is also the celebrant of the Sunday Mass broadcast on Facebook.