Lent - Into the Desert and the World_2017
I was walking on the windswept sands of the Sahara Desert of Morocco in the early morning of March 24, 2014. The gentle sunlight cast long, soft shadows on the dunes, imprinting the sand ridges with bold relief. Alone in this vast space, with abandonment I belted out one hymn after another worshiping God, as Spirit ringing in the melodies in my heart. Among his creation, the desert infused my soul with divine presence more than majestic mountains, boundless oceans or massive icebergs. Just as I could almost hear the Creator breathing silence into the still air, a Berber, a local nomad in a long, loose garment, intruded into my panoramic consciousness. Momentarily I was astonished by the presence of a stranger in such an early hour and a remote place. After hospitable greetings, the peddler courteously invited me to examine his ware. “No obligation,” he kept repeating in a gentle and friendly tone. Surprisingly I went with the flow in a sense of spaciousness, not minding him interrupting my quietude and solitude, which eventually reaped memorable gifts of a fossil jewelry box and a green jade camel, indeed a fruitful transaction with mutual appreciation. Even sweetness. Looking back, the experience blurred the line between desert and dessert, an intertwining of other-worldly encounter of the Holy One and worldly affairs of buying and selling.
A desert experience can indeed be imbued with seemingly conflicting elements as attested by the experience of Desert Father Saint Antony. After twenty years of contemplative practice, his soul had flourished into a loving spirit, a pure will, a singular mind and a disciplined body. While his experience in the Egyptian wilderness was sweet, it was also seductive. Aside from being tempted relentlessly and ruthlessly by external devilish forces, he also had inner demons to reckon with. Then in God’s appointed time, he was called to enter into the world to inspire others to live the Gospel way of life. His multifaceted ministries were unusual in a stratified society of his time, as he freely crossed between the elite and imperial on one hand; and the marginalized and outcast on the other, especially advocating social justice for the latter. How did Abba Antony navigate such a narrow passage? The key was a life of contemplation.
In contemplative prayer, the soul formation by Spirit is deep, slow, hidden and most of all, mystical. As I am being prayed through in silence, my shadows are exposed - the impulse to judge, label, categorize or rank; to separate and divide versus connect and unite; and to establish a subject-object relationship instead of an I-Thou one. Given the current political climate and the polarization of social discourse, I am especially vulnerable to such demons within. As clutter is hollowed out from my soul, I hold “what is, is; what isn’t, isn’t”, a prayerful posture of “just is”; I withhold affirming or denying anything, without dressing up or down the person; and I behold God the Grace – all concurrently. In the waiting room of God, I sit with the tension and allow it to run its course, creating mystical spaciousness in which my emotion is softened, my ego deflated, my “truth” held loosely; my old narratives of the other revised, my eyes to see our common humanity opened, and my participation in creative resolution offered, all embraced in God’s love, the strongest currency in divine economy. By not foreclosing the house of God’s mystery, my soul encounters the Host who midwifes my transformation – becoming like Christ – for the sake of the world into which I enter.  “My monastery… is a place in which I disappear from the world as an object of interest in order to be everywhere in it by hiddenness and compassion.” (Thomas Merton)
Ernest Yau, March 2017                                                                                                                                                                                        
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