Finding God in the Desert

Peace in the midst of thorns
Take a walk, a drive, if you dare, pass the golf greens and the shopping malls, the Walmarts and the Kohls, the Starbucks and the trendy restaurants and you will find something wild and untamed, the desert. But tread carefully with your eyes peeled. Be aware that this is not your home, it is theirs. This is a place where you must pay attention, for it is merciless. But approach and you will find a beauty you didn’t expect, but only if you turn your senses up.

There are no bright lights here, no big colorful signs that attract. But if you look closely you will find a desperate beauty that will touch your soul, remind you that even in the midst of a dry thirsty land there is life. The desert speaks to us of death, of what we fear, but it also speaks of courage, of survival. Of a big God.

Go to the edge and look in if you must, but I invite you to take a few steps beyond. You will find God there if you are looking, in the plaintive cry of the quail, the circling shadow of the hawk, the impossibly bright bloom amongst the plant of thorns; the lizard as he scrambles across the rocks, lifting his belly up and down to cool himself. The always industrious cactus wren, impervious to the heat, flitting here and there, always with a job to do.

Hear the unexpected voice of God in an afternoon thunderstorm……..and then afterward lift your eyes to the heavens as He paints the sky in sherbet. Stay beyond sunset and hear the silence of the desert that is like no other… the relentless heat has a bit of mercy and reluctantly loosens its grip. Wait, and you will see the sky fill up with His diamonds, try to imagine what He has named them.

In my silence, I can hear Jeremiah’s lament as he longs for his desert lodging place to flee to……
John the Baptist, crying across the desert wind, preparing the way for the Lord….
Hosea speaking tenderly to Israel there….
And I can see Jesus, walking resolute and strong, as the Holy Spirit carries Him out to His own battle in the desert…..

From a hole in a towering saquaro the face of an owl appears. Joining the crickets evening song, he beckons all who have hid in their dens and holes away from the merciless sun to come out. Stay longer and you will hear the coyotes come out to play, their howls echoing, their wildness touching the edge of our civility, two worlds colliding.
I wonder how we ever thought we could tame the desert?
I wrote this after my morning walk yesterday when I saw the dove nesting in the cactus. I was reminded of  all the many times this desert’s beauty has astounded me with its many paradoxes, like the dove resting among the thorns. God has surprised me with this part of His creation, and reminds me that beauty is everwhere if we keep our minds open. The desert will leave its mark on me forever, wherever I go. It has worked its way right into my heart along with the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Ocean I love so much…..

Scripture readings: Jeremiah 9:2, John 1:23, Hosea 2:14, Luke 4:1

Prayer belongs less to time than to eternity…..Thomas Merton

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