Be the Road That Brings Us Home

05/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Be the Road that Brings Us Home..."

Strange to be looking out on a frost bound garden this winter evening laboring to compose an interior desert, but that is once again - as for Christians all over the world - the intentional Lenten work. Easily the most personal, private and purifying of spiritual seasons, Lent is a spring-time summons to come home to one's own garden, to Earth's garden, its remembered vitality and beauty, its original blessing - but by a desert route that is in effect a paradoxical short-cut back to Eden.

This was the route Jesus took after he felt the down-pour and then up-welling of Spirit that Jordan day. Having heard his true name when the sky inside him opened - "Beloved..." - he had the grace to dare a vision quest, to test himself and be tested to see how near or far from his true garden home and his true self he really was. Wrestling with his own illusions, attachments, aggressions for forty days, he kept facing down the fictions that would distract or disorient him on his journey to that remembered garden where he walked and talked with the livingness as naturally as drawing breath. Not a garden someplace else - mythical or magical for some other time - but that garden whose seeds were living in him, waiting to blossom in the more expansive fields of his soul and of other souls he would touch and bring to verdancy - if he could keep those baptismal waters flowing through gullies of his thirsty spirit.

What an experiment: to find a route back to paradise as a steady-state dimension of being in this world. But his project was cut short, and the work of delineating a course of such an evolutionary reorientation was left to his disciples in perpetuity. Jesus himself left no maps or detailed directions except enigmatically to say: I Am the Path, I Am the Way. Follow me.

Needless to say, many did, and for some, the first trek on the mythical route to mystical life was a movement through a desert, in imitation of Christ. In time the open zones of the middle-east were thick with Christian refugees wanting out of the Imperial wasteland and its deadening patterns of living for what was not worthy of their lives. Hundreds and then thousands of spiritual seekers set up their practice centers in the rent-free outlands, sought out masters who seemed to know the way back to paradise, and gave themselves to the labor of spiritual reorientation. In their desert communes they began to flesh out itineraries for the soul's journey into God, hungry for the same homecoming as Jesus, wanting likewise to hear someone calling them by their true name.

What these proto-monastics learned in such desert seminaries became the basis of a Christian curriculum of spiritual transformation and the enduring program of the annual Lenten work. For many of us who are homesick for paradise, the Desert Teachers remain skillful orienteers who offer no-nonsense counsel for the journey. Their wisdom remains iconoclastic and ironic, pithy and profound, often summarized in the assignment of a performative koan, like this one:

Looking for paradise? Then "water this stick until it blooms" - your own soul, till it becomes a garden.

Kathleen Deignan, CND