Sunday, December 7, 2014

Word for the Day: Desert

Memoir writing and the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises have this in common: each helps you see the patterns of your past life.

“A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!’

Undertaking them together, as I am doing now, has revealed one striking feature of my personal landscape.

It is today’s word: desert, heard in both Isaiah and Mark’s gospel. I walked through a desert from sometime before June 2002 until March 2008.

In June 2002, I officially left the spiritual program I had been following for more than thirty-three years. I had been leaving mentally for “sometime before” that, but in June I turned in my keys, literally and figuratively.

I allude to this in the prolog of my memoir. The nature of the program and my personal investment in this program will become clear in subsequent chapters.

I knew I had to leave teacher, teaching, and taught, but when I left them I had nothing left myself: no spiritual anchor. I was happily married, the father of two grown and successful children, the owner of a house sans mortgage, plus the statutory two cars. I ran two book businesses of my own, one of which would soon be named Publisher of the Year by regional booksellers.

And I was lost. Alone. Deserted. 

Of course, I had deserted myself: by giving myself to a false system of belief and for staying with it so long.

What I have begun to see through both the memoir work and the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises is that I was never really alone. I had abandoned the Protestant church of my youth to follow this alternative system. But Christ—this is an article of faith but it is also evident from the testimony of my life—never abandoned me.

God did not abandon the Jewish people through all the long centuries that they toiled and often forgot Him in the desert. I believe today that He did abandon me either. Not during this six-year desert, not during the forty years I stayed away from Christian worship, 1968–2008.

In March 2008, I was received into the Catholic Church. After a six-year period of apparent professional and personal success (children graduated, business growing), I entered a six-month period of disaster. My best friend, my father, got sick and died. In fact, Dad died six months to the day after the Easter on which he saw me confirmed a Catholic.

But I was no longer in the desert! And though terribly painful, the period of my father’s final illness and passing was enriched by the knowledge that neither of us was or is alone.

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