God created lands filled with water as a place for man to live;
and the desert so that he can discover his soul. ~ Rene Wadlow
From reading and listening to those much further along than myself, I’ve picked up the idea that all earthly saints are slowly marching toward the desert, and if we’ve already been to the desert we are most likely going to return.
I think this knowledge would make a wonderful evangelistic tool. I would love to see a track that says something to this effect:
If you follow Jesus, not only will you find redemption and forgiveness of sins, but your journey toward God will plunge you head first toward a love so bright, so all consuming, that prolonged exposure will burn you beyond recognition. Life as you know it will seem an illusion; an empty and shallow cardboard silhouette. I should point out that many have found the Christian life to be a paradox of glory and heartache, for when a shadow overtakes this blinding love its absence brings incredible despair.
The hard part of our journey for me is to realize and remember, as Gerald May puts it, “The dark night is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely.”
I liken the dark night to a dimmer on a light switch slowly being turned off. The light begins to feel like a distant memory and I began to wonder if it was every really there, maybe it was a dream; maybe it had always been dark? It’s at this point that I grasp toward any semblance of light, however false and fleeting it may be. I pull out the socially acceptable subtle painkillers: shopping, food, sex, exercise, TV, or just plain apathy. When these fail to satisfy, I turn toward the old memory of light, and hope births the courage to begin the trek toward what I remembered to be a light switch. I take the leap and place my hands out in front in utter submission, desperately reaching for the faint guide of a steady wall. Through the fog of despair I suffer and ache for the light. I bump my shin on forgotten junk left in the middle of the room and fall to the ground. I’m now reduced to crawling toward the light switch, realizing how lost and lonely I am without it’s illumination. I am utterly dependent on the light. This is where I discover the clutter of my life. This is where I grow.
In recent years I’m learning to appreciate the desert and the beauty it can hold. One of my favorite albums is the obscure recording of John Michael Talbot “The Lover and the Beloved.” I’ve suffered many a night clinging to his musical adaptation of John of the Cross’ poetry. Some day I hope to welcome desert times. I have a suspicion Paul’s secret of being content in any situation may hold an answer.
Join the Conversation
Have you found yourself stumbling in the dark recently?
What comfort do you find in Nathan’s experiences of the darkness and the desert?
Nathan Foster is assistant professor of social work at Spring Arbor University (Spring Arbor, Michigan). He has been a counselor and founded/directed Door of Hope Counseling (Arvada, Colorado). He is married and has two children. He is an avid cyclist and still dreams of mountain adventures. His most recent book is Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet.