"Job...had within his heart that which is of God, and he drew on that source unceasingly." (Abba John the Dwarf)
Abba John the Dwarf was a desert father. In fact, he was a contemporary of St. Anthony. Both men saw life for what it was: a journey and not a means to an end. From what little I've read of them and of the other Desert Fathers, they lived life with a joy that we have yet to understand. Sure they saw all of the traps of temptation and all of the so-called "pitfalls" in life. They never viewed life as a "bowl of cherries." They knew about the pits at the bottom of that cherry bowl yet rejoiced and lived life as if it were their last.
Fast forward almost 1500 years later, and we discover a poignant story about a little boy who has journeyed far away from his planet. He is in the desert seeking answers to his questions. At one point in the story, the little boy meets a Fox. They bond and become friends where their parting of the ways is bittersweet. The Fox says he will remember the Little Prince when he sees wheat which is the color of gold. The Fox upon his leave-taking of the Little Prince tells him a secret: "One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes." This "secret" is something that Abba John would say-a statement of his faith in God.
In the desert of our hearts, God is apparent. We do not acknowledge His presence until we really need Him. Our journey is fraught with trying to succeed in a world that is finite. We use our eyes and minds to make our lives a better place not realizing that the Heart is what should be guiding us to our successes and failures. Using our eyes and minds is akin to the man wandering in the desert: lost, alone and dying of thirst. We wander looking for the oasis in that desert but never get near enough to drink that which will let us sate our thirst. As long as we wander in the desert with very little faith, our hearts will be in perpetual exile.
As we aimlessly wander in the desert trying to find our way, our eyes begin to play tricks on us. We see hallucinations of wells filled with water or other people driving towards us in a car to rescue us and take us to safety. Sometimes we never realize the lie our eyes see until it's way too late. We end up dead of thirst in a lonely and barren place-not having lived our lives the way God has meant us to live them. We've lived them wanting what our neighbor wants or competing with our neighbor. Needing what we don't really need when what our Hearts truly desire is to dwell in God's Grace and Love.
In the desert that is within our hearts, we encounter the ups and downs of a difficult life. Our ups and downs our of our own making and we struggle to reach the pinnacle only to stumble down that sand dune with no one to break our fall.
However, when the Heart leads us through life, we walk through an eternal oasis not wanting for anything. What we need is given to us through prayer and faith. Prayer and faith are the foundations of the Heart which is God. He loves us for what we are. He admires us because we take risks in our lives that please Him. When we reach a difficult point in our lives and it's a struggle to climb that dune, God is struggling with us. He, in fact, is the One who is leading us up the dune and leading us safely down so that we don't stumble and hurt ourselves. And in some instances, he carries us up and down those dunes. Or if for some reason we trip and fall, He's there to break our fall.
In The Little Prince, the Prince journeys throughout the universe searching for a means to understand that which he loves dearly: his little rose. His wanderings bring him to many types of people who seem to be a metaphor for humanity's more negative qualities: greed, conceit, arrogance, power, etc. It is only when he meets the Fox that he begins to understand that he and his rose are unique to each other. Their relationship is special. There is no other Prince and his rose in all of the universe. It is the same with us and God. Our relationship with Him is unique as is His relationship with that of our neighbor. God is different for all of us but not in the sense that He is many different people for each one of us. It's how our hearts feel about Him that make our relationship with Him unique to every single human on this planet. Some love Him only to a degree. Others, like Abba John, love Him passionately with all of their hearts, minds, and souls. Some are in between but it's ultimately that journey our hearts take which allows us to see what is really essential: God. And only when we embrace God fully into our hearts, the desert will flourish into an oasis. This process is not simple because life was never meant to be simple. It can be like the desert: harsh and unyielding. Yet God loves all of us with the same incomprehensible amount of passion no matter who and what we are.
Deserts are dangerous and yet beautiful where life is precious and sacred and the resources for survival, scarce. Such is our life without God. We can either journey through life without prayer and God and end up with "...bones that [are] very dry." (Ezekiel 37:2) dry whose flesh is laid waste by the vultures that scavenge or we be like Job during his trials and draw unceasingly that of which was in our hearts: God.
Lia Lewis is a graduate of Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary She's also a member of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
in Westfield, NJ.