Retreats | Sabbaticals | Silence | Solitude | Ireland

Desert Way

The Desert Way: A contemplative way of life

“I will allure her, and lead her into the desert, and I will speak to her heart.” (Hosea. 2:14)

“Thus says the Lord – who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters: ‘Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?'” (Is 43:16, 18-19)

The Desert Way is a description of a way of life that draws on the wisdom of the desert tradition, the wisdom of Carmel, and the wisdom of modern saints and heroes.

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

In our post-modern society we can find it hard to get support for our deepest spiritual yearnings whilst our fragmented selves cry out for belonging and wholeness.  It is too easy to be distracted.

We all need time away from the cultural layers of media, the web, mobile phones, shopping malls and the general “buzz.”  We need to return to a sacred center of silence to rediscover our own hearts and to listen on a wave-length that rings true.

Love calls to us and we do want to surrender. Deep down we need to give everything.  We want to commit ourselves to something Absolute. The desert way is for those who want a life of simplicity and authenticity with God.

The Desert Tradition

In the Jewish tradition the forty years in the desert came to be regarded as the golden age of the history of Israel, the age of Israel’s nuptials with the Lord—the pattern of all future perfection.  Recovery of the spirit of the desert meant a return to peace, direct dependence on God, restoration of unity and purity of worship.

The desert fathers left the chaos of an empire falling apart to follow the way of Israel.  They discovered vast silence and solitude alluring and at the same time terrifying. They found uncertainty, demons, desolation, and even paradise. “To be tried by demons” meant passing through a stage in the growth of awareness of the lower frontiers of the personality.  One’s own or others’ distorted desires can be the demons. They moved deep into a place of unknowing enroute to being remade in God.

In the twelfth century some crusaders who desired a more effective way to establish peace became the first hermits settled on Mt. Carmel, incorporating the aspirations of the desert fathers.  In their cells they maintained a simple openness that hid from nothing.  When they persevered they emerged as healers capable of reconciling those estranged and of encouraging those lost in grief or despondency.  They had been drinking from the torrent of divine love, and so they had a wholeness that simply held everyone and everything in love.

The Carmelite saints flow out of the desert tradition. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross further delineated the ways of interior contemplative prayer.  Their asceticism is the cross in all its forms and their sole purpose is to become one with Christ and to become divinized into Love Itself.

The Spiritual Life Institute is a community of religious and lay apostolic hermits with retreat centers in Colorado, USA and County Sligo, Ireland.  There they live a simple life dominated by the experience of silence and solitude. Their desert way draws on these traditions as well as on the wisdom of modern saints and heroes.

For those aspiring to live this desert way we recommend a practice, a Rule of Life.

Each day to include:
•    a simplification of lifestyle
•    a commitment to live life to the hilt: deliberately, creatively, passionately, and as naturally as possible
•    a spirit of leisure, recollection, prayer, and contemplation
•    a period of solitude on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis
•    pattern-breaking adventures in nature and cultural outings as often as possible

One’s overall lifestyle should incorporate:

•    a spirit of celebration, especially on the Sabbath and special days
•    conscious choices around eating simply in particular during special seasons such as Lent, Advent or before major decisions
•    vigils or praying in the night when appropriate
•    resistance  to grasping at reality, controlling, competing with, or defending oneself
•    a spirit of wonder and receptive gratitude for everything
•    if possible, a regular soul friend conversation for encouragement, to keep you honest and accountable, and perhaps to get some advice
•    working diligently, generously, lovingly with a cheerful spirit; uplifting the workplace; standing for justice and charity
•    regular retreats
•    taking responsibility for the future of the planet in concrete, active ways, thinking globally and acting locally
•    engaging with society, taking on one’s personal responsibility to uplift the world, help the marginalized, and to care for and encourage others.
•    a sturdy intellectual life: thinking deeply and clearly; using, stretching  the mind, and humbly giving way to truth.

“I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”
(John 10:10)

Monasticism and the desert life were never meant to be completely separate from society.  The Spiritual Life Institute means to engage with modern culture.  We encourage those who follow The Desert Way to embrace modern culture, uplift it, and help transform it in ways appropriate to their vocation and/or career.

“In so many ways I felt inadequate as a wife and mother.  My family provided a tremendous need in me for a resource beyond my limited self to meet their needs. I am a grandmother now. As I look back I can see the path and pattern that has slowly, haltingly emerged in my life. The desert rule of life that I learned is becoming more simple, more organic. I rest quietly in the Presence. I feel very grateful.” Michelle Reineck