a woman looks over the desert hills as the sun rises

Make Room for God

by Catherine Doherty

It is time—and the time is now—to enter into emptiness. For all around and about us, in my heart and in yours, there is confusion. In fact, in the midst of the world there is a state of terrific violence and tragic confusion.

We need in some way to enter the desert. The desert is empty with a strange emptiness. It is not ugly. It is not really a total emptiness because there are flowers, insects, and beasts and all kinds of creatures around and about it and in it, but for people it is emptiness.

But the desert I am talking about is not the Sahara Desert or any other geographical desert. It is the desert of our hearts, yours and mine. We have to enter it in order to see ourselves, for that is the function, the “vocation,” so to speak, of the desert.

The desert strips one of all illusions, of all wrong images of oneself, and of all that is a sham within us. In short, it strips us. It shows us to ourselves as nothing else will.

The moment of this facing ourselves is a difficult one. Nay, it is an excruciating moment, because it is here in this desert of our own heart that we meet the Evil One.

It is in this emptiness that we understand, or begin to, that God didn’t cause abortions, or euthanasia, or ISIS or the oppressive regimes of Iran, China, North Korea, and all the other evils that besiege us throughout the world. It’s we who allowed them to happen. We ourselves did, not directly perhaps, but by choosing evil over good.

Throughout our whole lives at various times we choose so many evils. And when God asks us about them, we keep repeating the words of Cain: Am I my brother’s keeper? (Gen 4:9).

Before this constantly repeated answer of man to God, there is only one place we can go: into the emptiness of our inner desert, there to face ourselves, to examine our consciences which have seemingly been so totally asleep.

For if we don’t enter our inner desert through which we must make our way to the God who dwells within us, we will face another kind of emptiness—the emptiness of desolation.

We will face the desolation that we have created ourselves through our western arrogance and our western avarice.

Yes, we must enter the desert of our hearts. We must empty our hearts like a woman empties her room in order to have the walls painted or white-washed. Everything must come out, most of it never to go back. The knick-knacks and all the other cluttering stuff must never return to that room of ours.

We must empty ourselves and enter the desert of our own hearts! The time is so short.

If we don’t do it, others will do it for us, others such as terrorists, and then there will be no creative emptiness, no emptiness of compunction, of sorrow and contrition. There will only be the emptiness that must have filled the hearts of the women of Ramah that was heard when they cried over their children, the Holy Innocents, who were killed.

What we have to do in our desert, in that emptiness that alone can cleanse us, is become small like little children. It is in this way that we will prepare ourselves to build a better world. This isn’t done through wealth, power, things. On the contrary, it is by giving up these things which we desire.

To empty oneself in that empty inner desert of ours is to become a lover of God, preparing as Mary did, to be pregnant with God.

Unless we do that, we will know the emptiness of despair, for emptiness without God is terrifying. Which emptiness are we going to choose?

A quiet, holy emptiness, the emptiness of waiting? This emptiness is beautiful. The emptiness of waiting for a Child, God, to be born within us and to make our desert bloom with an earthly and beautiful blossom for everybody to pick and enjoy.

Or is our emptiness one that is overrun with earthly desires, overrun from one end to another, as we seek the fulfillment of these desires at whatever price we might have to pay for them? Which is it?

How empty can we empty ourselves? For emptiness is like a net, a fisherman’s net, woven out of humility, out of love, tenderness, gentleness. It is a place for my brother to rest, to sleep—not a place for him to be murdered.

Do you know that you can murder in a thousand ways? You don’t have to use a revolver, a shotgun, a knife, or a bomb. No! You can murder with words which are worse than all knives, bombs, machine-guns and any array of modern weapons.

Yes, you can murder with words. You can refuse to help your brother or mine by giving a beautiful speech at some world assembly, the result of which will be the euthanasia of a nation instead of just one person. Yes, you can murder with words.

Yes, our desert awaits us within ourselves, calling us as only a desert can, to begin that journey inward that all people must take to meet the God that dwells within them.

It is the most important thing we should think about just now, because on our entering the desert, in our allowing ourselves to be cleansed by its emptiness and renewed by it, we will also begin our union with God, and he who is united with God is united with men and a bringer of peace—God’s peace.

But how are we going to do all this which to us appears totally impossible? Emptiness? Deserts? Surrender of all we have, or most of it? Pilgrimaging toward the Absolute within our own soul to be united with him? How are we going to do all that?

The answer comes simply, humbly, straight—by prayer. Only prayer.

Yes, today the world is in such confusion that we are unable to absorb it. Our minds can’t. Our hearts can’t. And we realize finally that without God we truly can do nothing.

So this is the time, this is the hour, to become that pilgrim who knows he must enter the emptiness of a desert to cleanse himself and there truly learn how to pray. For prayer alone will become like a broom sweeping everything away that should not be there.

Listen … listen …. Emptiness calls you as it calls me. Our hearts ache to be free of all the clutter that fills our lives.

Listen, and you will hear the voice of God saying, “I am coming to the desert of your heart when it is empty so that you and I together can make it bloom and save the world once more.”

Adapted from an unpublished letter to the staff, November 26, 1974

Catherine’s examples, which were those of the time in which this was written, have been changed to current ones.