Lawrence S. CunninghamFebruary 13, 2012 - 11:40am1 comments
Behind the forty-day preparation for Easter known as Lent (the word actually means “springtime”) is the image of the desert. The Bible describes the forty-year desert sojourn of the Chosen People as preparation for entrance into the Promised Land. Elijah the prophet and later John the Baptist were both desert dwellers. And the Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus was driven by the Spirit “into the desert. He was in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him.”
I don’t have much experience with deserts, but in the few days I once spent in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona the things that surprised me most were the immensity and darkness of the night sky and how much noise there was at night. The hot sand and rocks creaked as they cooled down, coyotes howled, and other animals (javelinas?) could be heard crashing through the palo verdes. The desert day, by contrast, was fiercely bright. A white light surrounded the cactus and rocks.
I think I can understand how mystics have found sustenance in the desert. Here the senses are heightened in a new way. One sees differently—sees more. One hears sounds that are drowned out by the noise of cities. And so over the centuries Christian ascetics have built dwellings for themselves in the desert (variously called hermitages, anchor holds, retreats). St. Bonaventure begins his Itinerarium by...