On an expansive and abandoned parking lot in Metairie, there grew this one and only sign of life. I had to stop and take a picture. Even in its total isolation, surrounded by an inhospitable concrete wasteland, this plant had proffered its blooms upward in hope of discovery, offering joy to unsuspecting observers and the tiniest of inquiring pollinators. But its real secret was hidden beneath that tiny split in the concrete, in the humble trust of its deep roots sunk into soils both damp and welcoming. I thought of Jeremiah 17:8:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.
St. John of the Cross, while he was imprisoned by his own Carmelite Order for 9 months in a latrine-made-cell, said that God “made it a place of springs.” He was deprived of the Sacraments and his Breviary, starved and insulted. But it was precisely within the wasteland of that cell that John discovered within himself a superabundant spring of living waters — waters Jesus Himself had promised another exile from humanity, the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:14).
All of us who have been baptized into Christ contain within us the boundless riches of the New Creation, as we have been made temples of the life-giving Trinity (John 14:23; 1 Cor. 6:19; Rev. 22:1-2). No matter how dry, inhospitable or lifeless our surroundings, every Christian must know that within him are the Gates of Eden (Gen. 2:10; 3:24; Rev. 22:2). As St. Symeon the New Theologian says, “Life in the Spirit is nothing other than cultivating in our bodies and souls a fresh Paradise in which God can again walk with us in the cool breeze of evening” (Gen. 3:8).
Sometimes the journey within, by which we discover and unearth the buried Kingdom (Matt. 13:44), requires our being left for a time in an outward desert. It was only in the desert of imprisonment that St. John of the Cross was able to compose the mystical poetry that gave stunning evidence to the vehement beauty of the living Fountain within him. It was in what he called the “vast and silent desert” that he said he finally succumbed and, by saying Yes, unsealed within himself the upwelling River of Life that waters the virtues within. And he permitted his own life to become a “river in the desert” that made the deserts of Spain, and the whole world, bloom in bright meadows (Isaiah 35:1, 6-7).
Life’s barren deserts, in God’s paschal providence, become the privileged invitations to discover the beauty that lies within. Once this living Spring is discovered and embraced, we can then turn back with serene confidence to all who people and circumstances that seek to deprive us of joy or life or freedom and permit God to pour out on them His torrents of mercy through us. How wildly marvelous of God to always desire most to bless our enemies through us. Then, above all, we become sacramental signs of Christ’s ongoing dying and rising (2 Cor. 4:11-12).
Some related wisdom from Henri Nouwen:
It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. The task is to persevere in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone. The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ and allow him to unseal within us the fountain of baptism. He has preceded us there and made it a place of life. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1).
I will leave you today with a lovely and meditative musical rendition of a poem St. John composed while in prison, “I Know a Well.” It captures perfectly the heart of my attempted insight.