“Tell me everything you know about why you would take twelve days out of your life to sit on the floor of Death Valley for four days, without eating.”
That was February, 2013. I had just witnessed one other person in our circle of fourteen, be led through a process by which she clarified her intent for her Vision Fast. Now the focus was on me, and they expected an answer. Why was I here?
The story of Jesus’ fast tells us that he was “led by the Spirit” to go into the wilderness. Had I been led by that same Spirit? How does it feel to be “led by the Spirit” anyway?
It feels like this: You become possessed of a dumb idea that you repeatedly dismiss as too weird and disruptive. And, it won’t go away.
This idea always prompts you to discover more of who you are, and to claim your place. It speaks to you of time apart, to learn your gifts and to make your commitment to bring them to your people. It teases you with the idea that your life has purpose, that you have unique gifts that are not yet given, that there is healing you need.
It asks you, “Is the life you are living the same as the Life that wants to live in you?” *
You argue with it, you process it with your therapist, you make lists of why you cannot follow it, you declare it makes no rational sense. You fear that allowing this idea to lead you will result in the disruption of your relationships, abandonment of your communities, and loss of your job. Poverty, homelessness and death will surely follow shortly after.
You have already experienced your first temptation.
Your “dumb idea” will lead you to the essence of who you are, to your place on the earth, to your life’s purpose, and to the gifts you will deliver to your people. But, whatever is driving your resistance is committed to preventing those gifts from ever being given.
Long before I sat in circle in Death Valley, I had the idea that I wanted to find my purpose on earth. I knew that the life I was living as a software developer, community member, responsible adult, steadfast friend, and mother to two grown sons, was not the life that wanted to live in me. I believed that identifying and claiming my gifts was the most conceited thing I could do.
But I said yes to the call to time apart, and yes to the process of finding my place in the world. And things started happening: a study group came into my life, a remark by a friend led me to the School of Lost Borders, a location – Death Valley – beckoned me. Years before, I had said I would not do a fast in any place that had bears. I knew and loved the desert. No bears. I signed up. Now I was sitting in circle, staring at the fiercest woman I’ve ever met, trying to explain why I was there.
“I have recently retired from a long, successful career,” I said. “I have left a long marriage, sold my house and moved, and have been in a new relationship. My two sons are grown. Now I’m wondering what’s next, and how to bring my gifts into the world“.
Silence. She stared at me, her eyes boring a hole in my gut.
“Are you an Elder?” she asked.
I was completely taken aback. Me, an Elder? No, no, I’m a perpetual 35 year old! But that was a lie. I was 63. And so, I said, “Yes.”
“What are your gifts?”
Again, that sharp intake of breath, so surprised was I to have been asked this question so directly. This was no time for dredging up the old, tired list that named intelligence, managerial ability, musicianship, engineering knowledge, parenting ability, flower arranging, culinary talent, and organizational ability. These weren’t gifts. They were abilities I had learned, developed and honed for decades. They lay on the surface of my true gifts, and here I was in the middle of the desert being asked to dive deep and name them.
“Charisma, wildness, radiance, insight, wisdom, and joy.”
We started there. An hour later, I felt like my intestines had been pulled out of me, but my statement of intent had emerged.
I am an Elder who has thrown off the chains that bind her.
I claim my gifts of charisma, wildness, radiance, insight, wisdom and joy,
and I dare to manifest them in the world.
And with that, I went off to the valley floor, to spend four days fasting, drinking only water, sleeping under the stars, praying and doing ceremony.
It changed me forever.
There were others fasting and praying with me, each in a spot chosen with care the day before. One young woman came to mark her graduation from NYU and her movement from student to adult. A 71 year old man came to fast and to pray, to honor his parents. A forty year old woman came to heal from her father’s sexual abuse. A young man came all the way from Germany to find the eleven year old boy his father had walked out on years before, and whom he had abandoned as well. There are many reasons to fast and pray in the wilderness.
What about you? Why might you go, for a day, a week, twelve or forty days?
Is that weird, dumb idea needling you, that idea you rationalize away, that idea whose consequences you are so afraid of?
We can assume that Jesus had his doubts about being led into the wilderness. I wonder how many times he dismissed the idea, how many times he said, “Hey, I’ll just stay right here in Nazareth and work as a carpenter. It’s a good job. I can provide for a family. I can just get married, settle down and have children, and be a contributing member of my community.”
But he went.
What about you?