I have been away for over a month. It seems like I’m forever gone, but I’m just enjoying the trek with God on the desert of my life. What do I mean by this? Well, for the last 3 months I had been very busy preparing for my ordination to the priesthood. I was really caught up with the various activities I had to attend to before, during and after my priestly ordination, to the extent that I was almost tempted to focus on the externals rather than on what God has done in and through me. So I went out to the desert with Him. I mean I spent sometimes with him alone, with no one else, thanking him for the great gift he’s given me, and for the abundant graces he’s poured on all of us. I did not ‘literally’ go out to the desert, but I just emptied my heart, my self for God to come in and journey with me. And truly I have never experienced being so closed to him at that moment. I did not go and spend days with him, but just in the particular moments of my day, and it seemed to me I was in the presence of God for eternity. In the desert of my life, I met God. I felt his closeness and I learned to be more appreciative of what He has done to me. It was in the desert of my life that I understand all the more the meaning of the ‘footprints in the sand.” It was in the desert that I had experienced the simple beauty and the pure love that God has for all of us.
No wonder Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King had called “the desert, the place of God’s closenes.” It is therefore worth reading their story on the desert they had experienced in their lives.
In her biography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day shares how, shortly after her conversion to Catholicism, she went through a painful, desert time. She had just given birth to her daughter and her decision to have the child baptized, coupled with her profession of faith, meant the end of her relationship with a man she deeply loved. She suddenly found herself alone. All her old supports had been cut off and she was left with no money, no job, few friends, no practical dream, and no companionship from the person she loved the most deeply in this world. For a while she just stumbled on, trusting that things would soon get better. They didn’t. She remained in this desert.
One day, not knowing what else to do, she took a train from New York to Washington to spend a day praying at the National Shrine of Our Lady. Her prayer there was wrenching, naked. She describes how she laid bare her helplessness, spilling out her confusion, her doubts, her fears, and her temptations to bitterness and despair. In essence, she said to God: “I have given up everything that ever supported me, in trust, to you. I have nothing left to hold on to. You need to do something for me, soon. I can’t keep this up much longer!” She was, biblically speaking, in the desert—alone, without support, helpless before a chaos that threatened to overwhelm her—and, as was the case with Jesus, both in the desert and in Gethsemane, God “sent angels to minister to her.” God steadied her in the chaos. She caught a train back to New York and, that very night, as walked up to her apartment she saw a man sitting there. His name was Peter Maurin and the rest is history. Together they started the Catholic Worker. We should not be surprised that her prayer had such a tangible result. The desert, scripture assures us, is the place where God is specially near.
Martin Luther King shares a similar story. In, Stride Towards Freedom, he relates how one night a hate-filled phone call shook him to his depths and plunged him into a desert of fear. Here are his words:
An angry voice said: “Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point. I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hand, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory.
“I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t take it alone.” At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before.
God sends his angels to minister to us when we are in the desert and in the garden of Gethsemane.