April 2019 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
Topic: The Desert, Life In Solitude
Luke 4:1-13 Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert and was tempted.
To be led by the Spirit requires listening and obedience to God, one of the three promises of a Benedictine monk, sister or oblate. Jesus was a listener. After his baptism in the Jordan, which prepared him for his journey ahead, Jesus was called into desert time.
Desert time is often associated with time for solitude. “Seeking solitude means searching for a time to be alone.” (Beil) Time alone can be renewing and recharging, a dedicated opportunity for reflection and prayer, a time for us to see more clearly and to put our struggles into proper perspective. It is important to go to the desert to come closer to God. “The desert journey was a time of learning to know and to trust God, but also an increase in self-knowledge.” (Beil) The desert time gives us a deepening awareness of our thoughts. We can never fully escape our struggles and temptations—time alone reminds us often it is our own thoughts and behaviors that are our biggest obstacles.
“From the third to about the sixth century, the desert was populated with hermits who chose to live next to each other.” (Beil) These hermits and monks went away from the corruption of society but found that they still had demons within that they needed to face. “Benedict himself has known the dangers and hardships of a solitary life from his early days in the cave of Subiaco.” (Beil) St. Benedict encouraged his monks to face their solitary journey but within a community. Being accompanied on our spiritual journey—having spiritual friends and a spiritual director—is critical. There is also a feeling of peace and joy in being together with others yet in silence. I have had this experience at contemplative prayer retreats.
As Thomas Merton said, “We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is only a secondary end. The one that includes all others is the love of God.”
“Time spent in solitude offers also positive experiences of spiritual growth, maturation, and encounter w/ God…The desert is an archetype for the spiritual life.” (Beil) It is only with the Spirit that we can overcome any temptation. When our wants and wishes are not met—we are tempted. Sometimes the desert comforts us and other times it tests what is within us. The desert provides space and time for many things to rise up in our spirits.
Do temptations come to us for a holy reason? Perhaps our temptations help us develop our holy mettle; they are a part of life and a gift from God. The spirit shows us how to recognize the temptation and we grow in self-awareness. It’s an ongoing struggle to become more of who we are; it is purifying. We are never victorious in overcoming temptation or dealing with struggles. We just keep becoming more of who we are, more known to our self, and closer to the divine who dwells within.
Jesus was not just tempted these three occasions in the desert. “He departed from him for a time.” (Luke 4:13) Our temptations are never fully conquered; it is a journey, they return time and time again. We become overwhelmed with our human condition—dealing with pride, greed, lust, anger. But the Holy Spirit is within our struggles. The desert time is facing our humanness.
Even Jesus was on his way to becoming free. Only if we are filled with the spirit can we recognize the temptations, deal with them, and develop an awareness of ourselves and the importance of surrendering to tackle the inner and outer struggles.
How close would we be to God without our temptations? One of the greatest gifts is self-awareness to be able to listen to ourselves, to observe our own behaviors and thoughts. We become who we are with the struggle of temptation. Jesus was able to become who he was meant to be with time in the desert, time alone in the garden, and other times when he separated himself from the large groups. We become more of who we are going through temptations and times of solitude.
In our small group discussions, we pondered this question—How does the “desert experience of the people of Israel” affect our celebration of Holy Week? What is Jesus saying to us and what is St. Benedict saying to us about the necessity of desert experience for our inner life? How do we build in and practice some desert spots in our lives?
The Israelites depended on God for forty years in the desert—it was a wandering, a slow death of the generations, and a preparation for a new life. The pillar and tabernacle went with them wherever they went and they learned to depend on God. As we noted, Jesus, sent by the Spirit, spends forty days in the desert and St. Benedict had his desert time in the cave in Subiaco for three years. We observe forty days of Lent.
Preparedness is the point of these desert days—just as the Israelites needed more time to prepare, Jesus needed desert time after baptism to prepare for his mission. St. Benedict needed time to develop his inner strength before he could lead other monks. In each of these situations, for all of us, something must die before something new can begin. Jesus points us to this archetypal journey of carrying our cross, suffering, dying and rising again. Jesus is saying the desert is a time of growth, of hope. You have to go through the desert; there are no detours. You cannot skip it. In attempts to practice forgiveness—bitterness and resentment must die before something new can begin.
This wandering, especially for the Israelites, perhaps, took longer than it needed to. This parallels my own life—oh, how long I’ve tried to pound a square peg into a round hole when I just needed to surrender to what was. I wish I would have had the wisdom to go deeper into the desert, to withdraw, instead of trying to swim upstream on my own. This desert time is not necessarily negative or positive, it can be either. Sometimes we choose it, and other times it is thrust upon us. Our journey is about embracing both life and death and life again, the cross and the resurrection. The desert experience squeezes out of us the excess, allowing us to be grateful for what is.
Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 1
New American Bible, Luke 4:1-13
Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, pages 28-32