A desert is usually a place of loneliness and hardship, a wilderness. Rarely is there water, rarely a sign of life. In early Christianity, the so-called desert fathers lived as monks in the desert for many years, sometimes for the rest of their life. They had to fight a lonely battle with themselves. The enemy—no robbers and looters, for there was nothing to rob or loot—was the army of demons they were confronted with.
Although in our time we don’t normally live in such lonely places, our cities often have the nature of deserts: a dead world, built up of stone. In these modern deserts everyone is thrown back onto himself—in our time more than ever. “Everyone for himself…” is the part of the old saying that we hear around us in every possible version. Strangely enough the second part of the saying is usually lacking: “…and God for us all.”
There is no other way—we all have to find our own individual path through the desert. But loneliness is not only inevitable; it is also necessary in order to form a strong, autonomous I. Our desert is the world in which we live. The dragon in our desert is the inhumanity with which we are confronted day in day out. Is there a place of refuge, or do we only have to stand up until we fall? Can we, like the woman in the desert, develop wings to flee to a safe place?
Our wings are made by the strength of our prayer. Recently, a well known physician expressed this idea in everyday language with the words: “The most powerful medicine against depression is prayer: it lifts up the soul.” Indeed, every true prayer, every real meditation, gives wings to the soul, so that we can find a spot where we can take shelter—a spot that was prepared for us by God.
This does not mean that it frees us from the opposing power, on the contrary. But every true prayer brings us to a place where the Spirit assists us, helping us to remain upright in our lifelong struggle—lonely, but not alone.
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