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Shall we cross the desert?


“A voice cries out in the wilderness ‘in the desert prepare
the way of the Lord.’ Make straight in the wasteland a highway
for our God. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain
and hill made low ”  Isaiah 40: 3-4

Their hearts must have sunk. When the Jewish people saw where their homeland, they must have let out a collective gasp. In the quotation above from Isaiah, the Jews are facing the frightening prospect of freedom. Soon, the Persian king Cyrus will come and liberate them from captivity in Babylon. He will free them from their enslavers, so that they can return to Jerusalem. You would think they’d feel overjoyed. You would think they’d feel exhilarated.

Nevertheless, as they awaited their liberation, the Jewish people probably felt a little uneasy. For they had become comfortable living in slavery. The Babylonians were not a particularly cruel people. Moreover, the Jews were getting enough to eat. They were starting to make some money. Sure, being home in Jerusalem sounded wonderful. After all, Jerusalem was where God dwelled.

Unfortunately, in order to get home, the Jews would have to cross the desert. Trudging across miles and miles of waterless wasteland, the sun would scorch them by day. Bitter winds would bite them at night. There would be scorpions hiding under rocks, bandits lurking in the hills.

“In the desert prepare the way of the Lord.”

Yes, the Jewish people wanted to be home with God. They just didn’t want to go through the desert to find him. It’s a dilemma we all experience. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all want to be home with God. We all want the peace and joy His presence brings. However, we just don’t want to do what it takes to receive that peace and joy.

For like the Jews in Isaiah’s narrative, a vast desert stands between us and God. In this arid wasteland, hostile forces surround us. Our prayer feels as dry as a desert wind. Our workplace seems a hideout of corporate snakes and secretarial scorpions.  Feelings of depression, fits of anxiety hover over our heads like marauding birds.

So, at all costs, we try to avoid journeying too far into our desert. As a result, when sadness over a spouse’s infidelity overwhelms us, we distract ourselves with shopping. When nervousness over an upcoming medical exam shakes us, we numb ourselves with food.  Seeing an enemy in the next pew, we move away in order to avoid the awkward encounter. No, we don’t journey through the desert of our live. For we have a hard time believing God waits at the other side.

In his great poem The Divine Comedy, Dante describes the soul’s journey from hell to heaven. Interestingly, the journey starts not as an ascent but a descent. Heaven comes only after the poet has first plummeted to the bottom of hell. Similarly, God waits on the other side for those who delve deeply into the painful parts of their lives.

                              “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord.”

If we want to find resurrection come Easter, we must first walk through our desert this Lent. We must face our fear and talk honestly with an alienated neighbor. We must take time and feel the loneliness over the loss of a parent. We must stop rationalizing and accept the guilt for having betrayed a friend. It’s a scary prospect since it means staying present to our pain. Usually, the discomfort of the desert sends us scampering back to Babylon. We scurry back to Babylon and savor the sweet enslaving distractions of television, work and company.

Don’t seek distractions. This Lent allow time for quiet prayer. Move through the desert of your heart. We can do it. The dryness, the desolation won’t destroy us. After all, the desert didn’t destroy the Israelites. For as Isaiah later promises, the same loving God who awaited the Israelites at the desert’s end would also accompany them in the wasteland. Indeed, Yahweh walked with them. He shielded them from the sun, drove away the jackals.      

 Likewise, if we journey into our desert, we will find God walking with us. God give us the strength to face our loneliness and the courage to see our sins. As Isaiah declares, Yahweh makes crooked ways strait. He levels the mountains of fear. The valleys of depression He fills so that our journey becomes smooth.

                    “In the desert prepare the way of the Lord.”

The desert in our hearts is never as bad as we fear. If we make the journey, we will find God walking with us through the beginning, middle and end. Still, it’s easy to talk the talk. This Lent we need to walk the walk.


March 2019
Fr. Timothy Ennis, O.Carm


As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."