This is from several weeks back.
"In those days, the Israelites came to the desert"—so began our first reading. They came to the desert. They "pitched camp." That is, they stayed awhile.
Now, when you’re in a desert, one advantage you have: you know exactly what you face. It’s pretty clear that food is hard to find; water, even harder. In short, you know: you’re in hostile environment; if you aren’t careful…you’ll die! It’s pretty simple.
Let’s talk about our culture in the year 2005.
In many ways, our culture is a desert. But the desert of our culture is dangerous in a way a natural desert is not: the desert of our culture can fool us in ways a real desert never can. Our culture readily offers us things that promise to be life-giving, but they’re not. In the desert of our culture, we may think we’re eating and drinking real food, but it’s a mirage: we’re eating sand; and what we’re drinking is polluted; and it pollutes us.
Like the desert in nature, living in our society is a daily challenge of realizing the sources that truly give life are rare: and we need to seek them out, bypassing all that is phony and unfit.
A desert isn’t a bad place. I’m not saying our culture is all-bad; but it can be a hostile environment. I can cite one example, but there are many: consider what comes out of our TV. I could talk about the stuff that is indecent, the numbing violence, the mockery of faith, things like Court TV or some talk shows that invite us to be voyeurs into the messes of other people’s lives. Or, the materialism—or, the way the "all-news, all-the-time" channels can make us forget that God really is in control!
And that’s just our entertainment media, in one 24-hour day! We could talk about our political process, our laws, many of our institutions; and then, there are things like sports, and work, and a thousand other things, that aren’t bad in themselves—but that aren’t enough to give us life.
One way we know this is a serious issue for our times is to look at a major—and growing—problem: the problem of addiction. Name almost anything you like—spending money, sports, work, sex, food, drugs, relationships—and there are people who are addicted to these things. It’s huge. If you’re not that person, there’s a really good chance someone in your life is painfully addicted to something.
One thing I think is true: when people "feed" themselves pornography, or alcohol—or whatever the addiction is—and they keep on and on and on, they’re feeding a real hunger. They aren’t imagining their craving—it’s real! And you might think the problem is the hunger, the craving. But the craving is not the problem!
No, the problem is, they haven’t found the right thing to feed it! And until they do, they keep pouring in the drugs, the abusive relationships, the food. Do you know what an addict is? An addict is a "well-fed" person who is starving!
If you’ve read any Flannery O’Connor, you know she had very odd characters in her stories; she said she did this to have those oddball situations be where the grace of God was found.
And, strange as it may seem, I submit the problem of addiction in our society likewise alerts us to God’s grace.
When all around us we see seemingly well-fed people who are starving for what really gives life, that’s a wake-up call for us all: in the desert of our culture, are we really finding the water that gives life?
Am I talking about church, about our faith? Yes, but that’s only part of it—there’s a lot more.
Certainly, if we don’t have time in our lives to worship God, to pray, to nourish our inner selves, we have to ask: why? What’s crowding it out?
It’s not easy; but to thrive in the desert of our times, we do need to drink the water of worship and prayer; we need to nourish ourselves with quiet time. And maybe we need to ask someone to help us do that.
One thing about a desert: you can’t be a loner. We need each other; and if our relationships aren’t healthy, we won’t be healthy. If we don’t give ourselves to others, we’re going to find ourselves emptier and emptier.
You and I are in the desert. It’s not an easy place to live, but the sources of life can be found. And the Good News is, God is there to lead us to pure water; he feeds us with Bread from heaven.
If we listen for his voice, he’ll lead us to Life.