The Song of the Desert

The Song of the Desert

Fr. Carl Chudy, SX

Recently, a friend messaged me in Facebook, venting she later shared with me, her frustrations about the present mood of the country, with the large numbers of people expressing their difficulties with the direction of the new US Administration. She says, “All this hate, judgmental name calling and anger of the Americans make me so disappointed and tired. Can they just calm down for a minute and give this man a chance.” I get her dissatisfaction. She feels what so many are feeling now in the start of this new year and new administration that has surfaced, since prior to the election, the deep divide of our country. This deep, sense of frustration, which wallows in all sides of the ideological divides, hangs over our heads like a lingering dread.

In saying this, I am reminded of the story of Christiana N. Peterson, who reflected on the vigil she and her mother stood at the dying of her father of esophagus cancer. She shares:

“I’ve never lost a father before so I don’t know what his death will be like, but right now it seems as though dying is a harsher master than death. Dying refuses to follow a set pattern, it unearths personal weaknesses, unmet needs, and emotional griefs beyond the seemingly simple loss of a loved one. Dying complicates death, not because we always want death to come but because dying is filled with the looming shadow of dread. I dread the death of my father. But I also dread his prolonged suffering. I cannot know what he dreads and that is part of the pain. He won’t tell me.”
Dread is something that creeps in and out of our lives without invitation, it signals our sense of powerlessness in a world we love desperately, and the hope that struggles against it, almost unknowingly. It battles in order to reassert in us that all we want is an end to suffering, even if it’s at the bottom of a vial of morphine to temporarily take away the pain, or waiting to see if things get any better. For both my friend and Christiana and many of us, it is a waiting game to some extent.

Thomas Merton, in his work, Contemplative Prayer, said:

“The Word of God which is his comfort is also his distress. The liturgy, which is his joy and which reveals to him the glory of God, cannot fill a heart that has not previously been humbled and emptied by dread. Alleluia is the song of the desert.”
Is there something more that we are missing in the distress we hold and the hope we fervently are groping for? Is it in the dread itself, our collective angst that opens its mouth wide to the heavens as in the utterance of a song? Merton reminds us that the rock of dread that pins us to the wall provides a leverage of healing, a desperate moment to tap into the unknown reservoir of insight and strength we carry. Is our corporate confusion essential to convince  ourselves that we are perfectly capable of wrestling ourselves from behind the rock? Is that God’s healing? Is that what the power of the Cross provides?

Peterson closes with this: “But by then, will we all be too exhausted to sing Alleluia in the desert? Or does God mind that sometimes, the song of praise is as quiet as a puff of sand in the wind?”

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