Friday, October 26, 2007
THE DESERT IN THE MARKETPLACE
One of those days Jesus went out into the hills to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there, and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. (Luke 6:12-19, NIV)
Australian Christians often follow a lifestyle symbolised by the pattern of white settlement in their country. In the centre are the arid, desert regions where it is difficult to see signs of life. On the perimeter are the fertile plains. Most live busily on the fertile plains, occasionally longing to find desert time and space to be alone with God, but secretly afraid that this desert would not provide nourishment.
We are invited to find our own desert space within the marketplace of daily living. The rhythm of life demonstrated by Jesus helps us to understand the importance of this lifestyle.
The passage from Luke 6 has much to say to us: Jesus' activity and his prayers were complementary to one another. Neither was allotted to whatever time was left over. He knew that the source of his power and wisdom came from communion with his Father.
Our complex lifestyles can be transformed if we understand the basic simplicity of Christian living, which is to be and to do. God calls us to our true vocation, which is to be his children, and to express that vocation by doing his will.
We are invited to live both in the desert (being) and the marketplace (doing). Our response to that invitation will involve some conscious decisions about our use of time. Often we self-consciously leave prayer for 'left-over time', fearing we shall appear over-pious if we withdraw during what are traditionally 'active' daytime hours.
Our desert is found in moments when we give undivided attention to God. Then we receive spiritual nourishment, forgiveness, healing and grace, growth in wisdom and a call to serve.
Circumstances and moods change: sometimes the daily desert is a consolation and at others it is a painful and lonely place. Yet as we persist in spending time there, so we sense changes in our lives and eventually we become more deeply dependent upon the grace of God. The desert begins to provide our daily bread, and the marketplace becomes our opportunity to express the life of Christ, which now abides within us.
Early in December 1984 twelve people met in France to begin an on-going search for a spirituality for our times. This was initiated by the World Council of Churches. Amongst the issues the group discussed was the relationship between 'moments of withdrawal and moments of engagement'. Participants concluded that the church was called to a costly spirituality that was Christ-centred and which enabled people to live more effectively in the world.
This demanded constant conversion and on-going formation and discipleship. It was rooted in a life of prayer and in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. It would lead to suffering. In it Christians who were encouraged and challenged by a community nourished by word and sacrament would discover that 'this life is one of joy and hope in the risen Lord'.
Our century thirsts for the authenticity of simplicity, the spirit of prayer and the life of obedience.
Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity
The time of business does not differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and chatter of my kitchen while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
[Poustinia is]... a place where we can raise the arms of prayer and penance towards God in expiation, intercession and reparation for our own sins and the sins of our brothers. The desert is the place where we gather courage, where we pronounce words of truth remembering that God is truth. The desert is the place where we purify ourselves and prepare ourselves to act as if touched by the burning coal that was placed by the angel on the lips of the prophet.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia
Make yourself a little 'poustinia' in your house, in your garden, in your attic. Do not dissociate the concept of desert from the places where men and women lead their lives. Try both in your thoughts and in your lives to put this glorious phrase into practice: 'the desert in the heart of the city'.
Carlo Carretto, The Desert in the City
When you are able to create a lonely place in the middle of your actions and concerns, your successes and failures slowly can lose some of their power over you. For then your love for this world can merge with a compassionate understanding of its illusions. Then your serious engagement can merge with an unmasking smile. Then your concern for others can be motivated more by their needs than your own. In short: then you can care. Let us therefore live our lives to the fullest, but let us not forget once in a while to get up long before dawn to leave the house and go to a lonely place.
Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude
It is as much our duty to live in the beauty of the presence of God on some mount of transfiguration until we become white with Christ, as it is for us to go down to men where they grope and grovel and groan, and lift them to new life.
Frank Laubach, Open Windows, Swinging Doors
'Action' is no longer a matter of resigning ourselves to works that seem alien to our life in God: for the Lord himself places us exactly where he wants us to be and he himself works in us. 'Contemplation' is no longer merely the brief and satisfying interlude of reward in which our works are relieved by recollection and peace. Action and contemplation now grow together into one life and one unity. They become two aspects of the same thing. Action is charity looking outward to other men, and contemplation is charity drawn inward to its divine source. Action is the stream and contemplation is the spring. The spring remains more important than the stream, for the only thing that really matters is for love to spring inexhaustibly from the infinite abyss of Christ and of God.
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island
God himself is present, let us now adore him as with awe we come before him.
God is in our midst, now in our hearts keep silence, worshipping in deepest reverence. Him we know, him we name... come and let us make him our renewed surrender.
0 majestic Being,
I would praise you duly and my service render to you in the selfsame spirit as the holy angels, ever standing in your presence. Grant me now so to strive evermore to please you dearest God, in all things.
Australian Hymn Book, No.47 Words, Gerhard Tersteegen
Lord, in the stillness of these sacred moments before you, help me to remember that you are present to me in love. Grant me the inner serenity which allows me to lose myself in contemplation of you. I am a person created to reflect your glory: with all my frailties and failures you still love me, and desire to keep company with me. Most wonderful Lord, my heart leaps with joy when I recall this truth! (Pause)
Forgive me, for those occasions when I have kept busy to satisfy myself or to escape from loneliness. Forgive me, for being tempted to think that you only require me to be in the marketplace, and for allowing the desert to be pushed aside.
Lord, l long to discover my desert and my marketplace. Help me to order my days with a divine rhythm.
Before you I recall the marketplace of my life. You have placed me there to offer Christ to others. Humbly I wait before you now, looking for your wisdom, your gifts. You are the well-spring in my desert. l seek you. l worship you. (Pause)
Teach me, Lord, to be your person and to do your will, that both desert and marketplace may be sacred ground. Amen.
Go now, in the peace and strength of God, ready to impart to others what you have first received from him: and may the presence and power of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, go with you. Amen.
[From Rowland Croucher, ed., Still Waters Deep Waters, Albatross/Lion. 1987/1998, chapter two].