Adversity can play a key role in honing our ability to hear what is beyond the usual scope of our ordinary consciousness. Facing stressful challenges outside the norm of our usual experience can heighten our awareness of events that otherwise would go unnoticed.
“Samuel Johnson put it “Depend upon it sir, when a man knows he is about to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” It is precisely for such clarity and insight that people seek out desert experiences such as solitary retreats, in which we step away from many of the usual supports of life, family, friends, familiar surroundings and routine, in order to be open to God’s call.
Unlike John-the-Baptist in Luke 3:1-6 , we don’t always get a chance to choose our desert times and places. They sometimes are provided for us in the form of illness, change in employment, failures in relationships, death of a loved one and even, natural disasters. These deserts all hold new possibilities for hearing the word of God at ever deepening levels.
In past month much of our conversations here in Monmouth County NJ have been focused on the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. In recent weeks our Bible Study and Men’s Group have referred to having had our “spiritual nerves” more sensitized and “closer to the top”.
We, God knows, didn’t choose Sandy but the environment around us shifted as the ocean’s surge and its deluge paradoxically created our desert and the opportunity to let our spiritual ears tune in to God’s voice, through our displaced neighbors near and far.