The lockdown is throwing us all back on ourselves and it’s hard to keep the spirits up. I'm a curate in… [a small parish] and I'm finding it very hard to be unable to visit people, and having no one at Mass. All the routines are swept away, the day is very long and boring, it’s like being in a desert. Spiritually it’s affecting me. Even though I've more time now for reading I can't concentrate for long. I'm in a Covid slump…. Have you any ideas about how to keep going in this situation? Jim
We’re all with you in that slump, even though we are all isolated from one another: that makes it a strange place indeed. Like Mass-goers on the webcam, we’re there and not there at the same time.
Having an empty day in front of you is like having an empty sheet of paper on your desk. We wish we could fill it with beautiful timeless insights, but we end up with doodles. It makes us realise how much we depend on outer events to keep us going; it throws us back on ourselves and our own resources.
Our spiritual tradition has a name for this place. It’s called the Desert. It’s hard to imagine it, but there have always been people who choose to go there. They were not driven, as we are, but something attracted them there.
A desert is featureless: nothing marks your progress as you make your way through it; there is a terrible sameness day after day; there is no path.
‘Traveller, there is no path; / you make a path as you go.’ (Antonio Machado). We would like to follow a known path; mentally and physically it requires less of us, and every landmark is a reassurance. But in a desert there are no paths, no signposts, no features…. I read somewhere that after a few days of desert crossing, travellers begin to lose all sense of progress because the horizon looks just the same, day after day.
From the beginning, Christians have felt the pull of the desert. St Paul’s first instinct, after his experience on the road to Damascus, was to go—like Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself—into the desert. In the third and fourth centuries, abandoning the corruption of cities, Christians in Egypt flocked to the desert in search of an authentic way. The paradoxical nature of this is reflected in a hymn of the Divine Office:
“Lord God, we give you thanks for all your saints
Who sought the trackless footprints of your feet,
Who took into their own a hand unseen
And heard a voice whose silence was complete.”
This enforced halt to our ordinary activities, this covid lockdown, can become an opportunity to dig deeper into our own resources. When we go deeper we discover that our resources far exceed our personal strengths; they are the resources of the whole Body of Christ.
As you sit in meditation you are already at the edge of the desert. Don’t be afraid to strike out into the unknown, the pathless path.
There’s a multitude of collections of the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers available free on the internet.