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HORSE WITH NO NAME: Preparing for the Desert

“…the Lord whom you are seeking will suddenly enter His Temple and the Angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes He is coming!” (Malachai 3:1)

The Lord whom you are seeking will suddenly enter His Temple.

He is Himself the Temple and we are His Temple.

It is we who seek Him
We who are longing

It is in our longing that we present ourselves before the Lord so that we are there – present and prepared for when that sudden thing happens.

The healing that we seek will suddenly happen
The conversion we are awaiting will unexpectedly take place
The Love we are longing for will suddenly arrive.

And we will, like Simeon, say, “at last!”
That will be our prayer of relief and gratitude.
But we have to be there in the Way and in the Place where it will happen and we have to seize the opportunity when it presents itself.

I’ve been seeking Jesus all my life, often finding Him, often avoiding Him.

For many years I’ve had this image of Jesus and myself. I’m standing in my own life with all my belongings – personal, material, spiritual – all my comforts and securities.

Standing quite close, facing me is Jesus but where He stands is desert – bright, white, blue and empty. Empty except for Him and he’s asking me to step across the line from my place into His. I’ve always resisted taking that step, afraid that He would not be enough, but always knew that I would have to go there one day. He and I have always been very close but, somehow, also in different places.

And now that I have turned 65 and am almost 40 years ordained, I’m about to go there. Last year I received an invitation to take part in a priest’s retreat in the Sahara Desert and I leave on Monday (February 3rd). There are 12 of us taking the retreat and we will be guided by experts as we spend eight full days walking, praying, eating, sleeping, being silent in the desert. We will walk for five to six hours a day. 40 is a very Biblical and Desert number – 40 years of Israel wandering in the desert; Moses spending 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai; Jesus spending 40 days and nights in the desert after His baptism. So, I feel this is a significant event in my life .

I believe that it will be a blessing for the people of this parish whom I will carry with me in my heart. This is not just for my benefit, it's not only about me but about us as a community. I do not carry the parish as an institution but as a people, as specific people and it’s not so much that this parish as an institution will be any different when I return but my hope is that we will be touched as people by my going and returning. And perhaps something that we have been seeking and longing for will come to us or some of us in a defining way. The defining way might not necessarily be pleasant. It might in fact be challenging and even painful but it will be a moment of new life and salvation.

People in the parish have already been equipping me for this pilgrim journey. The kufiya (desert scarf) given me by a young husband and father, a small rucksack and gaiters. There are ski goggles belonging to a young doctor to protect my eyes in the event of a storm. All these will be physical connections with my beloved Hastings, reminders, symbols of the love given me, tangible instruments of prayer.

Apart from the parish, I will of course carry all whom I hold dear with all their needs and in a special way I will be connected to Katie, niece and God-daughter, who will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation while I am away. She generously gave me permission to go to the desert even though she would want me to be at her Confirmation. So, may the Holy Spirit who fills the air in the distance between us, bind us even more closely and fill her with all of the spiritual blessings of Heaven.

The moment draws ever closer. At last all powerful Master! And the old song from the 1970's goes round in my head and makes me smile - "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name...!"

“At last, all-powerful Master, You give leave to your servant to go in peace, according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all nations, the light to enlighten the Gentiles, and give glory to Israel, your people.” (Lk 2:29-32; the song of Simeon)


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