7 day (Residential)

I have always been intrigued by the opening monologue of every episode of Star Trek. I’ve memorised both the words and the intonation. As we embark on the journey at Desert Odyssey, indulge me in paraphrasing these memorable words:

“Self, the final frontier…these are the voyages of Desert Odyssey sojourners. Their mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new meaning; to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

What follows is a daily synopsis of the exciting journey undertaken by these courageous sojourners. 

Day One ~ Are we safe here?

When asked, “How do you know someone is your friend?” a child responded, “You know someone is your friend when your name is safe in their mouth!” The first day of Desert Odyssey amidst beautiful surroundings, greater beauty was evidenced in the room where the sojourners gathered. Most did not know each other but someone saw with their hearts that they could trust their name in each other’s mouth. So they opened up and shared deeply.

So in community, with our names safe in each other’s mouth, we expressed the pain of being misunderstood; we grieved the loss of loved ones, reputation, and self-esteem; we shed many tears of desolation and of consolation; we sat with our questions without needing answers, but content to know we could ask them; we attended to the loneliness that drives us to activity.

Day Two ~ Being in a space larger than our egos

All of us found that space in Desert Odyssey – the space that is larger than our egos. Too often, anything we set out to do, any endeavour we attempt, any challenge we take on, is measured against our ability to accomplish. We limit our challenges rather than challenge our limits. At Desert Odyssey, we discovered that real meaning is to be found in that space that our egos cannot always fill.

That life is more than what we know, which keeps us humble; that the frame of reference is larger than our finite understanding, which keeps us honest. In that space, we discovered the best of ourselves and the worse of ourselves. The self that got lost in our ego and the new found wonder in discovering that who we really are is found on the less travelled road of vulnerability.

Day Three ~ Let the river of life flow

The analogy of the story of our life as a river captured our imagination. As we each told our stories without judgement or embellishment, it became clear that rightly related, the seeming disparate events of our lives are not random. So we told the story of how we got a little lost, a little diminished, a little carried away during the journey of time. Rightly re-membered, pieced together again, it gave us a sense of the magnificent course that the river of our lives is taking.

We explored how the construction of a dam slows the cascading waters to a trickle. How everything behind the dam gets ‘drowned’, and everything ahead dries up. When the landscape is submerged, we forget the story of our life to our peril. Pain that is not transformed is transmitted. So even as the past and present is drowned, the future is bleak because the life-giving water is held back. Desert Odyssey gives us the courage to tear down the dam. To not be resigned to live ‘damned’ lives. To allow the waters to flow again bringing life and love and hope. To allow the river that is our life to once again teem with life!

Day Four ~ Being a spider or a bee

The thread that continues to weave its way through the fabric of Desert Odyssey is raw, beautiful honesty. The analogy of a spider is a helpful image for desires that are destructive and life-taking. Whatever comes into the spider’s web is diminished and eventually devoured. The spider satisfies itself at the expense of what it desires. Have we been with people who quite literally drain the life from us as we engage with them? More
poignantly, are we the sort of person who leave others diminished after they have been with us?

The analogy of a bee is the opposite image of our desires, those that are creative and life-giving. The bee feels attracted to what gives it joy. It draws the nectar from the flower and as it satisfies itself, it also picks up the pollen with its wings and feet. As it flies off, it spreads the pollen and thus aids in the reproduction of the flower. Both the bee and the flower are enriched by the encounter. Have we been with people who having engaged with them, we leave their presence feeling fulfilled? More poignantly, are we the sort of person who leave others enriched after they have been with us?

Day Five ~ Learning to walk in the dark

We explored darkness, no pun intended. We sought to understand how darkness can teach us valuable lessons that we would not have learnt in the brightness of day. How when we are deprived of our visual sense, our other senses are heightened – olfactory, tactile, auditory, even emotive. I have a friend who is blind and it is amazing the cues he can sense when someone is talking. He can tell that the person is tense, or dishonest, or concealing information. This beyond what those of us who can see body language miss. How is this so? It’s because the deprivation of the visual sense allows the other senses to be sharpened.

There is a visceral reaction that most of have to darkness – it is either to be feared, or if we do not fear darkness, it is to be avoided. Somehow, we equate darkness with evil and goodness with light. There is a darkness however that only those who have the maturity of faith and character dare venture into.

Day Six ~ The gift of pain

We grappled with pain today and discussed how many of us would do anything to live pain-free lives. How ironic it is that we will do anything to remove pain from our lives. We anaesthetise ourselves through vocation, vacation, and medication. Psychologically, we run away from reality by denying our pain, by replacing one emotional band aid after another. None of which works. If we keep covering our wounds or denying our pain, healing takes longer, numbness remains.

Numbness only wears off when a leper is healed because now, he can feel pain. That’s when a leper knows he is no longer a leper. When there is pain. Sorrow is what has made us think deeper, longer, and more soberly. And admittedly, the pain we now feel is because we are no longer numb. Paradoxically, this is a gift. The gift of pain. It is a gift that we absolutely do not want, but cannot do without.

Day Seven ~ Whole again, accepted again, beautiful again

Desert Odyssey is about discovering beauty in brokenness, wholeness in woundedness, acceptance in alienation. It’s about discovering that our past does not have to define our present or project itself into our future. We discovered that the way to be freed of the encumbrances of our past is to firstly acknowledge the past that needs to be jettisoned, good or bad but which weighs us down.

So we end this phase of our Desert Odyssey sojourn with a revelation that our brokenness doesn’t have to be hidden. That we don’t have to pretend that we have it all together but we can in honesty show that brokenness is part of our history. We can be made whole again, not in spite of but because of the brokenness.