There is a pleasure in the pathless woods;
There is a rapture on the lonely shore;
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more…
– Lord Byron
Recently I’ve been feeling pulled towards spaces of stillness. And yes, more than usual! Rather than simply seeking out the quiet as I normally do, I’ve been feeling a need to almost “disappear”. Like I need to go somewhere in the stillness and just listen. Listen to the gentle breeze in the air (so beautiful I often call the wind “her”, and “the Breath”), to the birds singing, to the trees swaying, to silence, and find out more about myself.
A reminder of a Biblical passage (Matthew 4) in which Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days led me to have a discussion about it with the priest of my Anglican church, Fr Simon Marsh. In summary our conclusion was that Jesus went into the desert to learn more about himself, to learn more about God, and to prepare himself for intense ministry.
Now although I feel called to be a priest in the future, I don’t feel the necessity to wander into the desert for 40 days with no food (thank God!). But the sense of needing to go into this “wilderness”, this space of quiet and emptiness, is fast-growing.
I recently found a quote from Jan L. Richardson which has been a God-send over the last few days…
When Jesus leaves the wilderness, he takes clarity with him as a treasure of the desert, a sign of the sustenance that always comes to those who survive that landscape. Baptized in the Spirit, named by the Creator, attended by the angels, Jesus walks out of the desert and into the life that has been prepared for him. He is an initiate, ready, going in the company of all who know what it means to walk through the wilderness and find the gifts God hides there.
Sometimes it takes going into the wilderness to learn who we are and what we need. From time to time, God draws us toward a terrain where the familiar contours of our lives disappear, where we leave our landmarks behind, where we let go the people and patterns and possessions that orient us. It doesn’t often require taking ourselves to a literal wilderness in the manner that Jesus did. But his sojourn there reminds us there is wisdom in knowing when to turn toward a place, a person, or a practice that can help us see what we cannot always see under our own power.
Jesus knew that going into the barren and uncomfortable places isn’t about proving how holy we are or how tough our how brave. It’s about letting God lead us into a landscape where we don’t know everything, don’t have to know everything, indeed may be emptied of nearly everything we think we know. Giving ourselves to that place frees us to receive the word, the wisdom, the clarity about who we are and what God is calling us to do.
And then from Wendy Wright…
We too urgently need to ferret out the still small whisper of divine prompting that so easily gets submerged in the rowdy chorus of voices that clamor for our attention in each day’s busyness. We all need to be able to listen deeply; to listen with a tender, yielding heart; to listen adventurously enough to be utterly surprised at what we hear. We all need, in one way or another, to enter the desert and listen there mutely, intently for God.
Part of me for many months now has been tempted to jump on the next train to the Lake District and wander around in the bliss and beauty. Now of course that would be reckless and stupid: no doubt I’d get lost and have no food or drink or contact or anything else necessary.
Part of me longs to go on a retreat, but the expense is something that may come to limit me, and the fact that they aren’t all that regular presents problems with my college timetable.
Part of me wants to just spend a couple of weeks in the summer going off to various parks, perhaps with a rucksack of books, to find pleasure in the pathless woods, to find space where none intrudes, so that I can try to take the large step I feel so desperate for in my journey of self-discovery. And I think this option is going to be the more likely one for me at the moment! The photograph at the top of this blog is from the first time I journeyed into the woods (although not pathless) to listen and discover God in this clarifying way that Jan L. Richardson speaks of. To listen deeply to the divine prompting. I’ve been a few times in search for silence and self-discovery, but it’s been too long since I last ventured out.
I’ll go soon and be glad of it. But as I do, I will remember some wise words from Paulo Coelho, who though often seems to write rather depressing literature, does write some truly inspiring, moving and uplifting stuff as well…
A person who goes in search of God is wasting his time. He can walk a thousand roads and join many religions and sects – but he’ll never find God that way.
God is here, right now, at our side. We can see Him in this mist, in the ground we’re walking on, even in my shoes. His angels keep watch while we sleep and help us in our work. In order to find God, you have only to look around.
But meeting Him is not easy. The more God asks us to participate in His mysteries, the more disoriented we become, because He asks us constantly to follow our dreams and our hearts. And that’s difficult to do when we’re used to living in a different way.
Finally, we discover, to our surprise, that God wants us to be happy, because He is the father.
And the mother.