Thursday, November 7, 2013

In the Desert of Doubt

Day 6 of 29 Days of Spiritual Messages.

Today's passage comes from a particular book that did not make it into the canon of the Christian bible because it was deemed heretical by Church leaders during the third and fourth centuries; it didn't fit the doctrine that the Church was promoting.

But, nevertheless, we can glean wisdom from its words. This passage comes from The Apocryphon of John, from the Nag Hammadi texts, the extracanonical manuscripts (Gnostic Gospels) found hidden in a cave in the Egyptian desert in 1945. 

Let's explore.

"Where is your master whom you followed?" a Pharisee said to me.
"He has filled your ears with lies, he has closed your heart,
and turned you from the tradition of your fathers."

When I, John, heard these words, I fled the temple;
I withdrew to the desert, grieving greatly, and I cried aloud,
"How then was the savior appointed, and why was he sent to us
by his Father? And what did he mean when he said to us,
'The realm to which you shall go is imperishable'?"

While I sat contemplating these things, lo, the heavens opened
and the world shook and trembled beneath my feet!
In the light I beheld a youth who stood beside me.
Even as I looked he became like an old man, then like a servant.
Yet there were not three before me, but one, with multiple forms
appearing through each other as though transparent.
He said to me, "John, John, why do you doubt?
And why are you afraid? I am the one who is with you always.
I am the Father. I am the Mother. I am the Son."

John, his faith shaken by the words of a Pharisee (high pious priest), forsakes the Temple and retreats to the desert. 

The Temple has been his fortress of faith. This is where he prayed, associated with his friends, identified as a Jew, and learned from his Teacher. The Temple was his life. Leaving it meant leaving the world he has always known and loved, even with its institutions and its rules on how to behave, think, and believe. 

Entering the desert meant confronting a whole new wilderness, alone, robbed of all his comfort and familiarity.

And so it is when we face dark hours and doubt all that we have believed, even ourselves. What an awful, empty, gut-wrenching feeling it is.

We retreat, withdrawing ourselves from all that we have known, and find ourselves in a vast, spiritual desert.

We begin asking ourselves all the ancient and eternal questions that have plagued mankind since the beginning. "Who am I?" "What am I?" "Why is this happening to me?" "Where do I go from here?" "What does all of this mean?" And so on. The internal world with which we were familiar and comfortable is all thrown into question and off balance. What happened to our foundation?

Too many times we approach spirituality the way John did. We try to deduce the meaning of life or the meaning of our existence using intellectual knowledge alone. And the moment our "beliefs" are challenged, the way the Pharisee challenges John, we are thrown into chaos and we bolt.

Maybe that's because we aren't completely sure of what it is we "believe," which is why John probably doesn't engage the Pharisee. John isn't prepared to answer the Pharisee's question of "Where is your master whom you followed?" His foundation is rocked, and he loses his footing.

The Pharisee doesn't stop there. He adds insult to injury when he tells John that his master "has filled your ears with lies, he has closed your heart, and turned you from the tradition of your fathers."  In other words, his master turned him into something unrecognizable. All John hears is, "You are worthless. You have turned against us. You have abandoned your traditions. Loser!" Fight or flight. John chooses to flee and to go lick his wounds in private.

How many times have we done this?

How many times have we taken criticism as a personal attack?

But fleeing sometimes has its advantages, especially as we begin our journey.

Alone in this newfound darkness of the desert, we find ourselves "grieving greatly" and "[crying] aloud." To whom? We scream and yell in anger, directing our questions and emotions toward "something" or "someone" in the hopes that we will be heard. In John's case, he questions his savior's whole purpose. But the deeper issue for John is the sense of abandonment he feels by his savior. He is a broken man.

How many times have we felt abandoned by those whom we loved and trusted?

Our intellectual knowledge can only tell us what something is, not what it means. It will only carry us so far.

Then somehow in the midst of our breakdown we breakthrough.

In the empty space we have created through our solitude, "the heavens [open]," and truth appears, bringing us the enlightenment we need to carry on. Our "teacher" appears in a new form, one we have never expected.

Whatever the form, we come to understand the "message" meant for us. It becomes transparent and visible all in one, one that is outside of ourselves and yet within us; it is all things when it says, "I am the Father. I am the Mother. I am the Son." We see through the veils of reality, beyond what is, to what is yet to come. This is a new knowledge, an inner knowing, one that bypasses all intellectual understanding.

This is the language of the heart.

Through this dark night, we realize that the desert in which we find ourselves is holy ground.

In the words of Terry Tempest Williams, "If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self. There is no place to hide, and so we are found." We discover that the Truth has been there all along and will always be there, even when we have our doubts.



  1. Why do we take criticism as a personal attack..who knows if ego gets in the way..or whatever...I will never know...but when it does happen I know its for the best for me so I can spiritually grow...its funny I don't like either good or bad criticism..not sure why...I know bad one I know I can grow n b better..but I don't like that's something I still need to grow on...
    Peace n blessings my friend

    1. Criticism, good or bad, is just words. Words in themselves have no meaning until we apply meaning. More often than not, most people apply negative meaning. But I think, more than that, we don't like criticism defining us because we are much more than the words that others use to try to put us neatly into some compartment in their heads. We are so much more than those words...there is no word -- no label -- that is all encompassing of who we are. When someone else tries to define us based on what they perceive, they are taking us out of context. Let me know how this sits with you.
      Blessings, my friend.

  2. In this total nakedness,
    I abandon beliefs and concepts,
    Philosophies and certainties,
    All expectations and all fears.
    Then it comes forth from the depths.
    This is where it has always been.
    the ruby of the Heart has only been waiting for
    My silence

    I finally came back to the Heart.
    I have read a thousand descriptions of ambrosia
    But I have tasted it only
    By sipping of it myself.

    I lost time wanting to probe the unknown,
    To use my wits,
 I cluttered my consciousness.
    Therefor I separated myself from the known.

    Finally I opened my senses to the inexpressible.
    I realized that the absolute
    Has no need for my theory of the world.
    I stopped obscuring the real.

    I stopped rambling on about the clouds
    And finally I saw the sky.

    ~ Sahajanandabhairava

    Healthy blessings,
    Gena :)

    1. Beautiful, Gena, beautiful.

      This is an apropos and elegant response!

      When we get out of our own ways, then we see our True Path.

      Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Dear Penny.

    What a deep and truthful message.

    Also, very well written.

    This is something to ponder for sure.




    1. Thank you, Kathy. :-)

      Here's to pondering and discovering <3


  4. the articles is so intensive and full of wonderful message. if all people in the world had such a beautiful heart, this would have been such a beautiful place.

    1. It sure would, amar.

      I'm glad this message resonated with you.

      Thank you for dropping in and sharing your thoughts.


  5. When I think of the desert I think of vast expanse of peace and quiet and solitude. Sometimes we need to retreat into the "desert" to find the answers within and to grow. Nice post.

    1. Thank you, Suzy.

      I used to live in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. It took on a whole life of its own, so different than the city or suburbs. I spent a lot of time in the desert both physically and spiritually during that time period. I've always found deserts to be holy ground.

      Thank you for stopping in and sharing.

  6. Wow. What an absolutely awesome post. Again. I loved reading this, and will have to read it again. So many spiritual truths. And so interesting to read about the Gnostic texts. I find studying different religious texts genuinely really fascinating. And yet all the time we're striving to understand the teachings with our mind we will ultimately fail. It is not until we come into our heart we can truly understand. It's like trying to describe the taste of chocolate. It just can't be done. At some point you just have to eat it to truly understand it. Great post, thank you.

    1. Hi Andrea!

      Ahh, the Gnostic Gospels are a treasure trove of spiritual teachings that take on a more Eastern feel than what we see in the canonized books of the Bible. You meet a whole different kind of Jesus in these works! You would think he was a Buddhist.

      I know what you mean about trying to understand something that can't be explained. We just have to experience it.

      Thank you, Andrea, for sharing.
      Blessings. Penny

  7. That makes tons of sense...totally can see how people can define us...but I that that what annoys me to the fullest...I know I'm more than what they like to define myself.n then I get annoyed BC I'm so not like what some people want me to b...thank u my n peace...

    1. We can't help how others will see us, just remember that whatever lens they are seeing us with is just that...a lens of perception based on their experiences that they bring to us. We mirror something about them back to themselves; they see a reflection of themselves, not the true picture of who we are, unless they to have come to the same level of awareness that we have come to when we look at others and see the Divine.

      It's your ego that is getting annoyed because it wants to retaliate in some way, and it wants control of your attention. Just acknowledge what it is trying to do, send love, and then let it go. The ego knows who is in control.

      Blessings, my friend.