Friday, November 5, 2010

Slow Reading, Prayer, and Is God in the Desert?

I read a lot, and I usually read very fast.  I just counted and there are 22 books piled up on the floor next to my bed, on the table next to my bed, and in my bed.  (Yes, my favorite place to work is in bed.)  Oops ~ two more under the bed.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that for my daily focused prayer time (which sometimes is daily and sometimes is not, and sometimes is all at once and sometimes takes place in brief periods scattered through the day), I was going to read and journal about two things v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y.  One, something in Scripture and the other, some kind of classic devotional reading.

I decided on Luke for the Scripture.  I know, the Luke lectionary year is about over, and it might be more sensible to move on to Matthew, but this has nothing to do with work.  This has to do with God and me, and Luke is the gospel filled with healing stories.  I did decide to make one concession to the liturgical year by starting with Luke 4.  I'll go back to the first three chapters during Advent.  So far it's been two weeks and I'm just reaching the end of the Chapter 4.

My other choice is Jean-Pierre de Caussade's The Sacrament of the Present Moment, originally entitled Abandonment to Divine Providence.  I've read it before, via my usual zip-through method, but I thought that it might be a good choice for something more considered.  It's basically a series of letters written by a 17th century Jesuit priest to the nuns to whom he had been appointed spiritual director.  You might be startled to discover how much of what he says applies to a 21st century person seeking to be more attentive to God in the daily.  Two weeks and I'm at page 19.  I 'm doing remarkably well at slowing down, yes?

What has astonished me as I read at this snail's pace is how complimentary these two books are. I read a very short passage in each in the morning or at night or whenever I get around to it, and then use what I've read as the basis for prayer then and through the day, and with almost every set of readings, I say to myself in a surprised inner voice, "They're on the same topic."

You may know that Jesus spends the first portion of Luke 4 in the desert where he is tempted by the devil.  And believe me, that episode reads a good deal differently when you have spent two years as I just have.  But as I was reading de Caussade one night, and trying to grasp what he says about being intensely and completely in the present, I came across a sentence that says, "Thus, the present moment is like a desert in which simple souls see and rejoice only in God." 

And I thought, I don't think that I've ever read or heard anyone say anything about Jesus' forty solitary and tormented days in the parched and barren desert being a time of rejoicing in God.

And, I continued, I'm pretty sure that my Desert Year blog does not represent a time of rejoicing in God.

And then I wondered, Is the desert perhaps not empty, but in fact filled with God?


  1. I know nothing. But I suspect that it is just that: filled with God.

  2. well. I may be, in fact I probably am, actually I'm banking on the real possibility that God is in this desert time and I just can't really see how or where. at least not yet. I suspect God is all over your desert time too...

  3. That book is on the floor in my study...out to help with the retreat. It's a gem!

  4. I'm a few chapters into the book from which you drew your quote above, forgetting, until now, just who it was that led me to to purchase it. My own favorite, thus far, is his definition of "faith" being "a ray of light whereby God, Himself, penetrates the dark spaces of human life". It joins my collection written within the cover of one of my Bibles. Thanks....

  5. A friend of mine who had never been a spiritual person moved to Israel for his job. It was literally in the desert where he found God. He told me that he could only make that discovery because there was nothing else capable of sustaining life there.