By Marianne Ferguson
Jesus must have felt the power of the Spirit very strongly to follow it into the desert. He seems to establish a pattern that He follows all his public life. Jesus often goes to a private place to pray before His preaching or healing. Unfortunately, the Palestinian desert is a most foreboding place with rocks, cliffs, animals and unpleasant temperature extremes between the heat of day and the cold of night.
The Franciscan casa in the Phoenix area where I make an annual retreat has its own Western–style desert complete with sand, dirt, small animals and snakes. Except for a section where there are trees that contain insects and falling debris, one can enjoy chairs and canopies and spring flowers. When trying to emulate the desert experience of Jesus, the closest one can get to wild animals are the snakes and prairie–type small animals that scamper with the quails. Comparing the deserts is ludicrous, yet one can identify with the sense of isolation from humans and try to touch the non-human population as Jesus did. Creation itself is easy to appreciate, the animals are present some of the time, but the sought–after presence of the Sacred is more elusive.
But one usually takes from the desert experience a minimum understanding of its importance, watching Jesus precede his life of service with prayer apart from humanity. Strengthened by our own small desert experiences in quarantine, in solitary prayer, quiet reading, in Chapel or in our own room, we too can ask for the ability to spot areas of concern around us and then perform the acts of compassionate service that Jesus modeled.