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Prayer in the Desert

“Desert spirituality is a spirituality of struggle, which is inevitable as we seek to know and to journey into ourselves, to face the demons in the depths of our personalities. It is a struggle with the apparent absence of God and a struggle in the darkness of our own emptiness and insufficiency.”
David Prail

“Simply waiting for God in silence is prayer”
Ladislaus Boros

“The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD'S hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’ While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. Moses said, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt.’”
Exodus 16

“You should realise that as soon as you intend to live in peace, at once evil comes and weighs down your soul through accidie, faintheartedness, and evil thoughts. It disspates the strength of soul and body, so that one believes one is ill and no longer able to pray. But if we are vigilant, all these temptations fall away.”
Mother Theodora

“Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there!
if I flew on the mornng’s wings, to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute – you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, ‘Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!’ It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.”
Psalm 139 (THE MESSAGE)

“You seek the Lord? Seek, but only within yourself. He is not far from anyone. The Lord is near to all who truly call upon Him. Find a place in your heart, and speak there with the Lord. It is the Lord’s reception room. Everyone who meets the Lord meets him there; He has fixed no other place for the meeting of souls.”
Theophan the recluse

“Try to enter the treasure chamber that is within you, and then you will discover the treasure chamber of heaven; for they are one and the same”
Isaac the Syrian

“And Jesus was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.
He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
Mark 1

“The crowded bus, the long queue, the railway platform, the traffic jam, the niehgbours’ television sets, the heavy-footed people on the floor above you, the person who still keeps getting the wrong number on your phone. These are the real conditions of your desert. Do not allow yourself to be irritated. Do not try to escape. Do not postpone your prayer. Kneel down. Enter that disturbed solitude. Let your silence be spoilt by those sounds. It is the beginning of your desert.”
Alessandro Pronzato

“When society is made up of men and women who know no interior solitude it can no longer be held together by love”
Thomas Merton

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour”
Habakkuk 3

“Be at peace, and thousands around you will be saved”
Seraphim of Sarov

“Our life and death is with our neighbour”
St Antony

“Do not forget that you can be alone amid the noise of the world; and equally you can be surrounded by the hubbub of the world whilst withdrawn in your cell.”
Theophan the Recluse

“I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having remained silent”

“If you are living in a monastic community, do not go to another place: it will do you a great deal of harm. If a bird abandons the eggs she has been sitting on, she prevents them hatching; and in the same way the monk or nun will grow cold and their faith will perish if they go around from one place to another”
Mother Amma Syncletica

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing…
Waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert
the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water
and it shall be called the Holy Way. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return.
Isaiah 35

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself, so that they might declare my praise.”
Isaiah 43

“A door opens in the centre of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact. God touches us with a touch that is emptiness and empties us. He moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us. All variety, all complexity, all paradox, all multiplicity cease. Our mind swims in the air of an understanding, a reality that is dark and serene and includes in itself everything. Nothing more is desired.. you feel as if you were at last fully born. All that went before was a mistake, a fumbling preparation for birth… And yet now you have become nothing, you have sunk to the centre of your own poverty, and there you have felt the doors fly open into infinite freedom, into a wealth that is perfect because none of it is yours, and yet it all belongs to you.”
Thomas Merton

Sometimes the landscape of my soul
seems like this burnt hillside,
the wind rattling orange leaves on black twigs,
the soil full of ash between the stones.
Sometimes the landscape of my soul
seems like this terrible waste of dead trees.

Walking this afternoon among the charred remains
I found a black stump sprouting leaves
and new grass thinly veiling
a delicate oak sapling
in this, the ravaged landscape of my soul.

Susan Fisher

“Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: ‘Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer and meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts. Now what more should I do?’ The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: ‘Why not be totally changed into fire?’”
Abbot Joseph

“With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Ephesians 1

For further reflection see:

John Moses : The Desert – an Anthology for Lent – Paternoster Press 1997
Henri Nouwen: The Way of the Heart – DLT 1982
Rowan Williams: Silence and Honey Cakes – Lion Hudson 2003

Photos by Alison Morgan and Martin Cavender. 

ReSource has a simple policy: when we pray, things happen. This is not a lippy, meaningless policy - we've found out through trial and error! When God's children pray; people get healed, coincidences occur with statistical impossibility, lives are saved, governmental policies change; God moves in a thousand ways (not all of them mysterious!). If you would like to join the ReSource Prayer network and receive a regular copy of our Prayer Diary, please contact the office.