Desert Journeys 30
April 11th 2017
Many cultures and faiths other than Christianity feature stories or traditions of people stepping away from home and going off into the wilderness, often to commune with something greater or divine.
The aborigines of Australia walk the Songlines across thousands of miles, the Native Americans seclude themselves in a natural environment on Vision Quests, and the story of the Buddha reports that he left a life of luxury and meditated under the Bodhi tree for 49 days before achieving enlightenment.
In our ‘always on’ lifestyle, where smartphones and emails constantly connect us to the 24-hour cycle of updates and newsfeeds, and where the ethos is often to add and complicate rather than to subtract and simplify, it’s both challenging and appealing to think about unplugging ourselves from the constant churn of input, and to allow the natural world around us to be heard.
Forty days and nights of fasting in the desert isn’t feasible for most of us (many employers allow flexible working now, but wi-fi tends to be hard to come by in places where the view to the horizon is nothing but sand), but it’s nonetheless possible to get away from it all, even if only on a temporary basis; in recent years, the idea of a ‘digital detox’ has been gaining in popularity, and whilst it might be beyond some of us to go an entire day without checking email or social media, simple steps like not checking email before breakfast can be seen as a small victory, a way of fighting the temptation to allow a distraction to become an addiction.
Similarly, physically taking oneself away from everyday locations can allow for refreshed insight – a change, they say, is as good as a rest. A lunchbreak spent in a nearby park instead of eating a sandwich at your desk, or even taking a moment to look up, at the sky, instead of down at a smartphone, can provide us with a micro-retreat – a small speck of comfort, perhaps, but then again the biggest desert is made up accumulated grains of sand.
In his popular philosophy book The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff points out that “if timesaving devices really saved time, there would be more time available to us now than any other time in history”, and yet we often hear about our ‘busy modern lifestyle’, one in which it seems that we have no time to stop and think, or to walk in nature – we have things to prepare for, plans to make, and things to do.
And yet as the time of his passion drew close, Jesus made a point of taking himself away from everyday life to reflect and prepare for the days to come; if this was the case for Him, how much more so would our lives benefit from us breaking from routine to think, reflect, and pray?