What the Desert does for us

Image: UN Environment Programme

If the desert is to be a pathway to God, it must be welcomed by a mind that has really abdicated worldly pleasure… [for] it is in the desert that we can make a periodic clearance of those illusions which prevent us for obtaining a clear view of all the things that clutter our heart. Traveling in the desert soon becomes impossible if one’s heart is not open and [not] unattached, and if one continues to expect from life something that only God can give.

So writes Father Rene Voillaume who in 1933 began the Saharan community of Abiodh Sidi-Sheikh, and then scattered into many of the other “urban deserts” of the world’s largest cities. He often wrote his pastoral letters after visiting the places Jesus had been.

The place of the desert with which Voillaume is most concerned is the cite where we can make periodic clearance of those illusions that clutter our heart. With the insight of a desert dweller, he states how impossible it is to make this clearance if our hearts are not open, and not unattached. I suppose this can include detachment form materialism, but Voillaume speaks to the abdication of worldly pleasure and the illusions of a cluttered heart.

As if to make a fine point of the issues for the cluttered heart, Voillaume states it is impossible to make this clearance of the illusions if we continue to expect from life something that only God can give. Here is the point of contact with where faith lives. Whenever we expect from life, or others, or sources other than God to give that which only God can give, we lose our way, and find ourselves in a desert of a different kind.

James Houston writes:

Our desolations, or “deserts,” can be the sphere God uses to free us for our fantasies… It is in the “desert places” of our lives when we can come to most intimate self-knowledge.

What have you learned in your deserts?

From what illusions have you learned to detach and declutter?


This excerpt from Father Voillaume is from a collection edited by James M. Houston – “Letters of Faith through the Seasons.”

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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