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Catherine Meeks, Ph.D. Headshot

In Search of Deserted Places

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I have always been fascinated to hear the words tucked away in Mark's gospel regarding Jesus seeking a deserted place to pray. "In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place to pray." (Mark 1:35 NRSV) These words are sandwiched in between the story of the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, casting out demons and healing all kinds of sick people.

All of us are busy responding to our lives in whatever ways we feel called to do, but there is so much chatter associated with our busyness as well as the noise of living in the modern world that it is often difficult to hear our own intuitive voices and we certainly don't get very close to hearing God's voice. There is much said in all of the holy books that we follow about the necessity of hearing God's voice and finding a way to discern that voice in the midst of the noise that surrounds us.

Recently we began a contemplative prayer class at my church where we made rosaries together and then embarked upon learning to do centering prayer and even more important than learning is the desire to develop this as a discipline which might be practiced both individually and collectively. It is challenging to quiet the mind enough to do this type of prayer, but the intention to turn our minds and bodies over to the possibility of inner quiet and stillness will help us to travel on this path. Clearly it seems that the development of inner stillness will have a great effect upon our ability to find better paths upon which to travel as we live our daily lives.

When I think about Jesus and the power that his life embodied I am always amazed about how much he sought the deserted places where great solitude was possible. It was always clear to Jesus that the work that he came to do could not be done if he did not stay connected to the source of his power. The inner stillness of the heart and mind are essential to a life of peace and the ability to be a source of healing and light in the world. Our world is in dire need of healing and light. Those of us who find ourselves interested in participating in helping to bring that light and healing must realize that we can only do it if we open ourselves up to the energy that comes to us from visiting the deserted places.

It seems that silence might be one of the greatest tools that we have to combat some of the negative effects of life with too much noise. Though it is not simple to find silence, it is possible. It does take becoming intentional about it. It is not easy to do, but it does bring new possibilities to the lives of those who choose to practice it. The silent retreats in which I have participated both as leader and retreatant have taught me a lot about confrontation with parts of myself that need to be brought to the light and healed. As this healing occurs we find ourselves more willing to accept the world as we find it because our sense of ourselves is not as dependent upon reality outside of ourselves because of the sense of inner security and freedom that develops from the work that is done in prayer and silence.

There are times when our inner activist wants to chide us about wasting time in silence and visiting the deserted places to reflect and to pray. But this is not wasted time because this inner work helps us to better understand what we are doing and why we are acting in the ways that we are, as we move ahead in an attempt to make the world a better place for everyone to live. The balance that is exhibited by Jesus is a marvelous example of what works better than non-stop noise and activity. Our cultural norms have convinced us that we have to be constantly doing and there is very little appreciation for the possibility that silence and prayer might turn out to be powerful influences in changing the individual who engages in such a practice thus making it possible for the collective community to become transformed as well.

We know that widespread systemic change is needed in our world today. But that type of change is initiated by transformed individuals and if we allow ourselves to be as open to the power of the spirit as Jesus was then we can hope to see results that mirror that type of transforming energy. I hope that readers who are already keeping disciplines of silence and contemplative prayer will be encouraged by these words and those who are not will consider embarking upon this journey of seeking the deserted places. I think that silence will have much to do with all of the future healing that comes to us and to our world.

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Desert Places - Robert Frost