Lessons from the Desert

I’ve recently been in correspondence with a friend about a retreat we are going to next fall, led by a hermit who lives out her life in a desert. So, this stared a conversation between us about the desert. This morning, she told me that, on a trip to Israel, they had a Jewish guide who told them that he takes his children into the desert every year for a week because it is the only place where one can find total silence. I often have conversations with people about which they prefer: 1) flat, wide-open spaces or 2) majestic mountains. I used to be a mountain person, mountains like the mysterious Smokys or Appalachians. I never related much to the desert.  Until lately.

I think I’m changing. I have been visiting New Mexico often over the past 15+ years, and the desert has been slowly growing on me. There is mystery to be found there, too, and sometimes the vastness of the bleak, open nothingness just takes my breath away. I will never forget the first spring we drove from Oklahoma to New Mexico. I was awestruck by the beauty of the desert, and how alive with color it was in the spring.

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day Christians contemplate the death of Jesus. Deserts are often a theme for Lent, especially during the last days of the Passion Week. I’ve seen churches take away all the flowers that usually accompany the altar, and replace them with things like dry wood, rocks or tumbleweed. Jesus was familiar with the desert. We often find him going to a “deserted” place to be alone, to renew.

Some have a hard time with this season. Some cannot relate to a God portrayed as a “Divine Child Abuser.” Some cannot relate to violence of any kind, and simply refuse to focus on Jesus’ pain and death. On the other side of the coin, some have trouble with all of the pomp and circumstance that often accompanies over-the-top Easter services … too loud … too happy … too much. It can be hard to put on a smile when your lived experience is too painful to relate to all of this happiness.

Maybe the desert is a good thing to contemplate for those who fall into these precarious spaces. Maybe we could allow the desert to speak to us this day. Maybe those desert blooms can tell us a story of the power of stubbornness, the beauty in the bleak mystery, how small slivers of hope can shine through the dry cracks of our lives, how silence can speak louder than all the cacophony of Easter morning.  

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