Recently I spent 3 nights and a couple full days in a desolate space of Utah desert. On the surface it appears desperately barren. The lack of wildlife – both plant and animals – is almost jarring. At night, an occasional coyote might pierce through the silence. In the day, a canyon wren might accompany you with it’s tune. But more common than any of those visitors is shear nothingness, a silence that actually leaves my ears ringing since my head is only accustomed to the voices of urgency (both mine and others) or at least the constant background soundtrack of the city.
It’s an empty place.
And I need more empty.
There's this profound riddle about the power of emptiness,
“What’s the difference between a flute and a stick in the mud? A flute is empty and thus it makes music.”
Can you imagine if our politicians would speak from a platform of abundance rather than the routine rhetoric saturated with fear and scarcity? Calling out people and places of abundance certainly won't get you elected. Abundance is a foreign language within capitalism.
In the emptiness of the desert, the color of the flowers are louder. The lizards and jackrabbits appear extra quick and playful. Nature's symphony becomes amplified the quieter I become. Reasons for joy start to accumulate.
Is this beginning to sound too romanticized?
The desert way – the way of emptiness – can be excruciatingly lonely. Loneliness hurts. It's that thing that terrifies us most.
It’s Gethsemane followed by death. It's not fair.
Thomas Merton associated another word with this path – humility. Merton said,
“You must have the humility to work out your own salvation in a darkness where you are absolutely alone…”
Ultimately, this aloneness is required for someone to be themselves, which is the basic definition of integrity.
Integrity. That's not a word commonly associated with humans anymore.
In the scriptures, integrity was cultivated in a place known as the wilderness. In the original Hebrew, wilderness literally means the place where God speaks. In that seemingly desolate place, the words, the preaching, the warm fuzzy's that once brought temporary absolution are silenced allowing God to be God - allowing us to be us.
This path of alone-ness isn't meant to be an ongoing literal location but rather an interior journey. Individuation - an ordinary looking exterior with an ever-developing integrity on the inside.
This integrity, this abundant, this joy-filled path of being alone is what we're getting ourselves into when we choose to embody the Easter story. Jesus presented it like this,
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
We can't be fooled by the popularized version.
This is the dangerous invitation to the unhurried, unattractive, culturally irrelevant way of emptiness.
The way of life.