Saturday, May 31, 2014

Episode 29: Desert, Dinner, Desserts, and the DEvil

Reporting from the monastery: good morning, blogosphere! I've been having dessert everyday and I LOVE it. When I first came in, I had dessert after every meal because, let's be real, if there's temptation in the form of ice cream and either pie, cake, cookies in any variety or hybrid form, who's not going to indulge? Be my guest. But that was soon short-lived as dessert soon just becomes part of dinner, then it just becomes dinner because one has it before dinner, making it "dinner" and dinner "dessert." If I don't watch myself, I could be eating to the waistlines of the other monks here (I jest since I don't think I'm capable of losing or gaining much weight in the first place)! So as lent approached, a simple form of self-improvement came in the form of giving up desserts. At the Old Town Bicycle the snack/dessert station was within arms reach, usually consisting of Philippine dried mangos, or dougnuts from one of the delectable doughnut shops in Tacoma (sooo good). Here at St. Martin's Abbey they're about a half-minute walk and I've gotten better at resisting such temptation for 40 days and 40 nights. Long arduous days in a monastery. Tell me about it. Now that we've celebrated the Easter season (50 days), I'm one step closer to becoming a saint.

The desert on the other hand should be taken much seriously. As the city can be a place of good people, good families, good ideas, and good business, the desert teaches us what's really important in life; all the better with a proper fat bike to take you across the vastness of the dessert.

Can you think of a life-changing event, like the carpet pulled out from under you, then, when you suddenly realize you're on your butt that sitting isn't so bad after all? I'll start with an unoriginal reflection, since the monastic life is at the heart is contemplation!

Our desert is any place where we confront God. It is not a change of scene, nor a place to run from our failures, nor a heroic adventure that does something for our ego. Our desert experience may be tedium, weariness, disappointment, loneliness, personal emptiness, emotional confusion, the feeling that we have nothing to give, the conviction that we constantly fail God in prayer. You just have to keep on keeping on in prayer, and you are not aware of "progress," because there seems to be nothing by which it could be measured. There are no paths in the desert except the ones you make by walking on them.

It is the place of truth, but also of tenderness; the place of loneliness but also of God's closeness and care. The journey is precarious, but he is faithful, even though our own fidelity is shaky. In the place of hunger and poverty of spirit we are fed by the word of God, as Jesus himself was in the desert. Part of our poverty may be that we are not even aware of longing for God, only aware of the suffocating burden of our own sinfulness, of the slum within. But the desert is the place of confrontation not just with our sins, but witht he power of God's redemption. You come to see it as the place where there can be springing water, manna to keep you going, the strength you never knew you had, the surprise of the quail that plops down at your feet, a tenderness that cares for you and a knowing of the Lord. These things are not the promised land, but they are tokens of love and may be sacraments of glory. Your life, your prayer, can be the wilderness to which you must look steadfastly if you would see the glory of God.

Now if that was a bit of too much Christianese, bear with me. The author, Maria Goulding probably hasn't ridden a fatbike across the Sahara dessert. But I think she can imagine it would be a little easier with one. Surely biking across the United States is far easier that walking it (though I did run into a gal who was doing that very deed).

The purpose of the desert is to confront ourselves. Imagine that crazy duo in the video not going through sand dune after sand dune from the Nile to the Atlantic, but through street and highways with traffic, rain, snowstorms, forging water, and having to drink and eat. What a feat! They confronted themselves in a very physical way, feeding the body to work for them, to get them and their tool, the bicycle and their equipment, across a barren land full of danger and adventure.

Now how does that relate to the current situation of monkdom? Well, my friends, not much. But I've had to dig deeper than that so I'll elaborate. Have you been in the toughest situation in your life and decide how much longer can I go? If you can't rely on your energy, faith, or other family, what or who do you rely on? Definitely not evil, which is the devil without the D... that's what I've figured out and for you to decide for yourself who one can rely on in the tryingest (yes that's a word as of right now) of times. Call me when you find out ;)

- 行者劉暢