[Took a break from blogging – my wife and I were in Cape Town to welcome our 6th grandson into the world and commune with family. What a blessing!]
I was once more stirred by an enthusiastic chat-show on Afrikaans Radio on Monday morning when the presenter, with the input of Dr. Ronel Bezuidenhout, focussed on ‘Desert Spirituality.’ Some of my childhood years were spent in the Karoo (semi-desert), and much later I had the privilege of travelling through Namibia (real desert). Deserts are places of intriguing discovery (rock formations, insect life), growth (succulents and flowers), colours (dunes and mountains), etc. Deserts can be places of wonder!
Contributors phoned in from all over South Africa, affirming their spiritual renewal and growth in ‘desert experiences’ outside of the institutional church, through trials and frustrations, hurtful criticism, etc.
Quite a few commented on the lack of young people in the organised church, one person concluded that the organised church was like a huge whale which had beached itself, powerful but useless. The latter called for identification with and input into the larger community, speaking out against injustice like the Tutu’s of this world, engaging with the poor, etc.
Dr. Bezuidenhout pointed out that some have withdrawn from ‘the church world’ as we know it in order to find themselves and as a result contribute more meaningfully to the world, quoting the mystic Thomas Merton in this regard. They have found help in: Silence, Solitude and Simplicity. She also mentioned author Shane Clairborne, who spent time with Mother Theresa before engaging in community ministry under the guidance of the Lord – there is a mainline denominational church in Pretoria that is involved in a similar mission, at great cost but also with great fulfilment.
I can identify with much of the above, having left the institutional church almost 7 years ago. It has been a case of the rose blossoming in the desert, the eagle flying with freedom above the plains, etc. We all need times in our lives when we can strip away the layers as it were, re-discover ourselves, God’s Word and ways, and our role in his kingdom purpose. The prophets walked this road (Elijah), so did John the Baptist, Jesus, the apostle Paul, and many in church history down the centuries.
In the organised church, in sometimes sincere attempts to renew things and methods, church leaders and members have become enslaved to renewal itself – I see examples of this in my own city. When all the time we should be enslaved to Jesus, hearing from him as to how we should be, live and serve.
And so there are a growing number of communities in our nation, in cities, in small ‘dorps’ and bigger country towns, gathering in community (early Church style) under the leadership of Jesus and with kingdom interests only. They share meals, fellowship and reach out. One brother phoned in from Oudtshoorn in the Small Karoo, another from Naboomspruit in Northern Province. I found their input encouraging and stimulating to say the least. The living God is active in his world, all we need are eyes to see him and respond with love and obedience!
Jesus, prior to his secret visit to the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem, said to family members (some of whom did not believe in him), ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here…’ (John 7:6. ESV)
Robert Kennedy once said, ‘Few people will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation.’
I don’t know your circumstances right now. Maybe you’re in the ‘desert’ right now discovering wondrous things. Maybe you need to get out of ‘the church rat race’ and get into the ‘desert’ somewhere/somehow. May the Lord be with you as you engage with him, in ways new and ancient!