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Who are you?” I asked.
"A teacher," he replied.
“A teacher of what?”
“And where do you teach?”
“In the desert?”
“What better place to find the truth with no distractions?”
“In a school?”
“Some would call it that,” he replied.
“And who are your students?”
“Seekers of truth.”
“How do they know to come . . . to the desert?”
“Word of mouth . . . an encounter, if it’s meant to be. It just happens in the encounter . . . as in this one.”
“As in this encounter?”
“If it’s meant to be.”
“And where do your students live?”
“There are many accommodations.”
“That might be stretching it,” he replied. “Rooms, dwelling places, chambers.”
“And how much does it cost to . . . ”
“How is that possible?”
“If one is truly seeking, it’s provided for.”
“Come,” he said.
“To the school?”
“Come and you’ll see.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m in the middle of a kind of journey.”
“Through a Middle Eastern desert?” he said.
“And what exactly were you expecting to find?”
“Nothing, just . . . ”
“You’re on a journey to find nothing?”
“I like to travel.”
“With no destination?”“But what if there was a destination?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if there was something you were meant to find?”
“Come and you’ll see. The new year’s about to begin. It’s a good time to start.”
“The new course. The course I teach starts with the new year and ends at the year’s end.”
“Of course you can,” he said.
“I mean, I don’t know that I would.”
“You will,” he said, “if it’s meant to be.”
That’s how it all began, an unplanned encounter in the middle of a desert. I don’t know which was more absurd, what he told me about his “school” or the fact that I actually ended up there as one of his students. And I can’t say exactly what it was that led me to take that step. Perhaps it was the thought that if I didn’t do it, I would always wonder what it would have been like to have done so and regret having not taken the chance.
Nothing about the school was ordinary. The accommodations were sparse as one would expect considering the location. And yet it didn’t seem to matter, not to any of the students. They came from all walks of life and from a wide variety of places.
It wasn’t entirely barren. There were carefully maintained gardens of trees, plants, vines, and flowers. And then there were the people who lived in the surrounding region, the nomads, the shepherds, the many desert dwellers who lived in the tent encampments or tent villages that dotted the arid landscape. About an hour’s walk from the school was a small city. On occasion I would go there, as would others from the school, to purchase goods, to observe, and, when appropriate, to seek to apply the lessons given.
The school had other classes and teachers, but he was clearly preeminent and the one who oversaw everything else. He was so preeminent that he was known simply as “the teacher.” All the more reason I could never understand why he chose me as one of his students.
He lived a simple, ascetic life, as did everyone at the school. It was in keeping with the goal of eliminating all distractions. We drew our water from a well, and at night the school was lit up with candles and oil lamps. It was as if we were all transported back to ancient times. And yet, at the same time, the teacher seemed very much aware of what was going on in the larger world from which the school seemed so cut off. Nor was he averse to making use of any tool or service of the modern world that would serve the purposes of the teachings.
As for the teachings themselves, they were no less ordinary than the school in which they were given. Most of the classes I was given consisted of just me and the teacher. There was no set time or place. They could take place early in the morning, in the middle of the day, or late at night and in desert plains, on mountaintops, on hills, in oil-lit chambers, while overlooking one of the tent villages, or while journeying through the desert on camels. There were times when the teaching would be triggered or initiated by the surroundings or by something we happened to see, or at least it seemed that way. I could never quite tell if the teaching was based on the surroundings or the surroundings on the teaching. And there were some teachings that came about in response to one of my questions. Each teaching would impart a mystery or truth. Some mysteries would build upon other mysteries or together form a larger mystery. At the end of each teaching he would give me an assignment, a mission to apply what I learned to my life that day.
I kept a journal in which I wrote down what he taught me and our conversations as best I could remember them—the teachings, the mysteries, the questions and answers, and the references I was able to find later on that matched up with what he shared. So by the end of the course and the year I had recorded three hundred sixty-five mysteries, one for each day of the year, a teaching, a mystery, and a mission.
The following is the record of what I was shown by the teacher, the mysteries he imparted, as I received them in the year I dwelt in the desert.
INFINITY IN A JARIt was morning. The teacher came to my room holding a little clay jar.
“A question,” he said. “Can that which is little contain that which is big?”
“No,” I answered.
“Can that which is finite encompass that which is infinite?”
“No,” I said again.
“But it can,” he replied.
He lifted the jar and removed the cap from its top.
“It can,” he said. “It can if it’s an open vessel. A closed vessel can never contain anything larger than its own size. But an open vessel has no limitations. It now can contain the blowing of the wind or the outpouring of the rain. It could even contain the flowing of a river.”
“It would take a long time to contain a river.”
“It could take forever, but the principle is the same.”
“And the reason you’re showing me this . . . ”
“Which is larger, that which you know or that which you don’t know?”
“That which I don’t know, I would think.”
“So then, it’s only wise that you seek that which you don’t know.”
“But how do you contain that which is bigger than you . . . that which is bigger than your ability to comprehend?”
“By becoming an open vessel,” I said.
“Yes,” said the teacher. “Only by opening yourself up can you come to know that which you don’t already know. And only by becoming an open vessel can you contain that which is greater than yourself. The truth is always greater than our knowing. Your mind and heart are finite, clay jars. But the truth has no end. God has no end. The Eternal is infinite . . . always flowing.”
“Like the river,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, “but when the jar opens itself, it becomes unlimited. It can contain the waters of the river . . . So open now your mind, your heart, and your life. For it is only the open vessel and an open heart that can contain the infinity of God.”
The Mission: Today, open your mind, your heart, and your life to that which you don’t yet know, that you might contain that which is greater than yourself.
THE I AM OF ALL I AMS
It was by the second day that I realized that there would be no set time for the teacher’s coming. He came in the afternoon.
“Do you know the Name of God?” asked the teacher.
“I don’t know that I do.”
“It’s made up of four Hebrew letters, the yud, the heh, the vav, and the heh: YHVH. It’s the most sacred of names, so sacred some refuse to say it. And yet you say it all the time.”
“The sacred Name of God?” I replied. “How could I when I never knew it?”
“When you speak of yourself, you say the Name.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When you feel happy, you say, ‘I am happy.’ And when you’re not, you say ‘I am sad.’ When you tell others who you are, you say, ‘I am’ followed by your name. YHVH means ‘I Am.’ It’s the Name of the Eternal, the Name of God. His Name is I Am.”
“Then we all say His Name.”
“Yes. And you have always said it. It is woven into the fabric of existence that when you speak of yourself, you must say His Name.”
“Why is that?”
“It’s because your existence comes from His existence. He is the I Am of all existence . . . the I Am of all I ams. Your I am only exists because of His I Am. And as you exist from Him, so it is only from Him that you can find the reason and purpose of your existence. Therefore, when you say your name, you must always speak His Name. And you must always speak His Name first.”
“Because . . . ”
“Because His existence is first and your existence flows forth from His. That’s the flow of existence. Therefore, you must put Him first and then let everything flow from that. Let everything begin with Him and flow forth from Him. That’s the secret of life. To not only live for Him, but to live your life from Him, to live from His living, to move from His moving, to act from His actions, to feel from His heart, to be from His being, and to become who you are from who He is . . . I am.”
The Mission: Today, learn the secret of living each moment from His life, doing from His doing, loving from His love, and being from His being.
He came to me at night.
“What is a year?” asked the teacher.
“Three hundred sixty-five days,” I answered.
“But in the holy language of Scripture it’s more than that. It’s called the shannah . . . and it contains a secret. The word shannah is linked to the number two.”
“I don’t get the connection.”
“Shannah can mean the second, the duplicate, or the repeat. In the course of nature the year is the repeating of what has already been . . . the winter, the spring, the summer, and the fall, the blossoming of flowers and their withering away, the rebirth of nature and its dying, the same progression, the same replaying of what already was. So a year is a shannah, a repetition. And now you have a new year before you. And what kind of year will it be?”
“What do you mean?”
“The nature of nature is to repeat, just as we live, by nature, as creatures of habit. We gravitate toward doing that which we’ve done before, the same routines and courses, even when those routines and courses are harmful to us. So what will the shannah, this new year, be for you?”
“Well if the year means the repeat, I guess I don’t have much of a choice. It will be mostly the same as the one before.”
“But you do have a choice,” he said. “You see, shannah has a double meaning. It not only means the repeat . . . it also means the change.”
“How can the same word mean the opposite?”
“The same way the year ahead of you can be either. The way of the world is to repeat—but the way of God is the way of newness and change. You can’t know God and not be changed by knowing Him. And His will is that the year, the shannah ahead, be not a time of repetition but of change, of new beginnings, new steps, of breaking out of the old. And if you want to experience a year of new things, you must choose to live not in the repetition of the natural, but in the newness of the supernatural. Choose to walk not in your will but in the will of Him who is beyond the natural and beyond all that is old. As it is written, He makes all things new. Open up your life to the newness of His will, and you will walk in the newness of life and in the shannah of change.”
The Mission: Today, step out of your old ways, habits, and steps. Do what you’ve never done before but should have. Walk in the newness of the Spirit.
He took me to an open desert plain. It was a windy day, so windy it was almost violent.
“Come,” said the teacher. He was asking me to walk against the wind’s blowing. So I did.
“What is it like to walk against the wind?” he asked.
“It’s a struggle,” I replied.
“In the language of Scripture,” he said, “the word for wind is ruach. But it has another meaning; it also means the Spirit. In Hebrew, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Wind. So what happens if you walk against the wind?”
“It creates drag. It becomes harder to walk and you get tired.”
“In the same way,” he said, “when you walk against the Spirit, it creates a drag on your life. Everything you do becomes harder. It takes more energy to do less. So when you go against His Spirit, you’re fighting against the Wind. And you can’t walk against the direction of the Wind without getting weary and worn out.”
“And what way is the direction of the Wind, the Spirit?”
“The Spirit is the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it blows in the direction of the holy, and blows against the direction of the unholy. Now try something else. Turn around and walk back, the same way you came.”
So I did. I was now walking in the direction of the wind’s blowing.
“And what was that like?” he asked.
“It was much easier,” I said.
“That’s because there was no drag,” he said. “You were walking in the direction of the wind. And the wind helped you walk. It moved you ahead. It made your walking easier. So when you walk against the wind, it creates drag. But if you turn around, then the wind gives you power. So it is with the Spirit. If you turn, if you change your course, if you repent, if you walk in the Spirit, then the drag will disappear. Then the Spirit will empower you and will move you forward. And then everything you do, that you must do, will become easier.”
“So if you walk in the Spirit,” I said, “life will go from being a drag to a breeze.”
“Yes,” said the teacher. “For those who walk in the Spirit, the Wind is at their back.”
The Mission: What part of your life is against the direction of the Spirit? Today, turn it around and start walking with the Wind at your back.
APPOINTING YOUR DAYS
We’ve spoken of the year before you,” said the teacher. “Today we will speak of the days before you. What will the days yet to come bring to your life?”
“How could I know that?” I replied. “I don’t really have a say in the matter.”
“But what if you did?”
“It is written, ‘Teach us to number our days.’ What does that mean?”
“That our days are limited, and so it’s wise to number them.”
“That’s correct,” he said. “And it’s the first meaning of the Scripture. But in the original language is a secret. And this secret can change your life, the days of your life. In the Hebrew it says, ‘Teach us to manah our days.’ The same word, manah, appears in the Book of Jonah where it is written that God manahs a fish, a worm, and a wind.”
“Then manah must mean more than number.”
“It does. It means to prepare and to appoint. So you must not only number your days, you must learn to prepare your days, to appoint your days.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that you’re not just to watch and wait passively to see what your days will bring. You’re to prepare them.”
“How can I prepare my days before they happen?”
“How did the first days happen in the beginning? They didn’t just happen. Before they existed, God prepared them. He appointed them. He purposed them. So if you’re a child of God, you must do likewise.”
“Praying for days that don’t yet exist?”
“Prayer isn’t only for what is, but for what is not yet.”
“But I can’t determine what will happen.”
“It doesn’t matter what happens. You appoint your days in God to bring what is good. You consecrate them for the purposes of God. And then you use your days to accomplish those purposes. Don’t let your days determine your life. Let your life determine your days. And don’t just let your days go by. Prepare them, that they might become vessels of blessing and life. Appoint your days.”
The Mission: Prepare the days ahead. Set them apart. Commit them into God’s hands and appoint them for the fulfilling of His purposes.
THE MYSTERY OF THE BRIDE
On our journey to the city, we stopped on a nearby hill.
“Look,” said the teacher, pointing to an event at the city’s edge.
“It looks like a wedding,” I replied, “or the preparation for a wedding.” The bride, in a white gown, was standing in a garden with her bridesmaids.
“You’re watching a cosmic mystery, the shadow of a mystery. Existence,” he said, “is a love story . . . or was meant to be a love story. The bride is a picture of what we each were created to be.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We were each created to be the bride. That’s why we can never be complete in ourselves. That’s why, deep down, in the center of our being, in the deepest part of our heart, we seek to be filled. For the bride is made to be married. So we can never find our completion until we are joined to Him who is beyond us. And that is why we go through our lives trying to join ourselves . . . ”
“Join ourselves to what?”
“To that which we think will fill the longing of our hearts—to people, success, possessions, achievements, money, comfort, acceptance, beauty, romance, family, power, a movement, a goal, and any multitude of things. For the bride was created to be married, and she can never rest until she is.”
“So none of the other things can work?”
“No. None of the other things are the Bridegroom.”
“And who is the Bridegroom?”
“The Bridegroom is God, the One for whom we were created.”
“So we have to find Him.”
“More than that,” he said. “A bride doesn’t just find the Bridegroom; she marries Him. So it’s not enough to find God; you must marry Him.”
“Marry God? How?”
“By joining every part of your life and being—your deepest parts, your heart, your soul, your wounds, your longings, your desires, everything—to God. Only then can you be complete. Only then can your deepest needs and longings be fulfilled. For the mystery of our hearts is the mystery of the bride. And the bride can only find her completion in the Bridegroom. And the Bridegroom of our souls . . . is God.”
The Mission: Put away anything that substitutes for His presence, and join all that you are, your deepest parts, to your Bridegroom.
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