“Hope in a Desert Place” (Part 4) – “Springs in the Desert” by Clare Bryden
The psalms express all human emotions and feelings, from the highs of celebration and praise, to the lows of grief, complaints, and curses. The psalms pull no punches, and continue to be patterns for our approach to God in prayer today. The reality is we go through tough times, often struggle to cope, and need to vent.
Much of my spiritual journey has been in the wilderness. The Exodus was a metaphor for me for many years. In the mid-1990s, I spent two years testing a vocation to the religious life. During that time I took the risk of falling into love, expressed in my imaginative prayer as taking the hand of Jesus and leaping into the abyss with him. I can confirm that the abyss is an agonising place.
The psalms of the community’s daily office were a major source of strength. I could have chosen any number of verses that sustained me. I chose Psalm 84 as it tells a story: the reality of dryness, the locus of the heart, the journey, the hope of water bringing life. My heart and its yearnings were key, the heart not as we think of it today as the seat of emotion, but as the centre of my whole being including its fathomless depths.
I spent a lo-ong time in the dryness and pain of the abyss, before a wise spiritual guide suggested that I enter my imagination again: to walk along its depths and see it over time become a place of springs, then a river, and at last open out again into a broad place. God makes me lie down in green pastures, leads me beside still waters, restores my soul. (Psalm 23).
That doesn’t mean to say that my journey has ended or I have stopped wrestling with God. I continue to identify with Jacob striving the whole night with God at the ford of Jabbok. Like Jacob I refuse to let God go until God blesses me.
O wilderness God, I do not ask to avoid the journey and the struggle. Only help me to trust that you are always beside me holding my hand fast in yours, even when all seems dark and dry, and that you will lead me to a place of refreshment, and blessing at the end.