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The Oasis and the Wasteland

by Monsignor John G. Nolan

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The landscape of the Near East is as diverse as any in the world. Yet what is striking about the people there is the way various cultures have learned to live in its dry, barren deserts and mountains.

The precarious nature of their lives lends special beauty to those areas where water offers life. The green of these oases must mean hope amid the duller colors of the wastelands.

For the weary traveler, the green landscape is a luxurious place of renewal, of rest, of replenishing the body before continuing on the inevitable journey. It refills the senses with the sweetness of life.

God certainly meant for us to enjoy such a luxury. Yet, we should not think of it as the only place to find renewal. There is something powerful in the desert, and it can offer us another type of renewal.

Those who have never been to such a place do not know the beauty of the stark desert landscape. Those who have endured its simple austerity have learned from it. They have developed a clearer vision of the vastness of creation and of the importance of its telling details.

In this seemingly cruel environment, Eastern tradition developed a path of spiritual renewal. Many sojourners from the West have learned through a quest for holiness in that rugged Eastern terrain.

At the turn of the century, a Frenchman journeyed East to follow Christ. Charles de Foucauld was inspired by the desert Muslims’ joyous submission to the will of God in the face of great hardship. He abandoned his Western comforts and founding poverty and humility a wisdom which passes understanding.

We can learn from the rich traditions of the East. While we may not spend a lifetime in the purifying solitude of the desert, as Charles de Foucauld did, we can occasionally break away from the luxury of our culture to renew our spirits through fasting, solitude, and prayer. These however brief ascetic observances are the necessary antidotes to the pace of illusionary pursuits in modern culture. They let us understand the richness of poverty so that we can learn humility.

In the East the landscape teaches the observant student. Its contrast of luxury and austerity clearly offers different types of refreshment. Just as we need the refreshing oases in life to revitalize our health, so we also must renew the spirit with a sojourn in less inviting environments. Lent is such a period of challenging austerity for the faithful, when we break away from our cultural luxuries to refresh the soul. The beauty of such a spiritual oasis in our time should not go unrecognized, lest our spirits expire in the spiritual wastelands.

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Monsignor Nolan is national secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and president of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.



Tags: Unity Eastern Christianity Msgr. John G. Nolan