The desert is a vacancy. It is a place of silence. It is harsh, both in its design and its impact.
Yet even in a place as treacherous as the desert, one finds resilience.
And it’s beautiful.
The thing about the desert, as with all nature, is its welcome embrace of those who find themselves in a season of drifting. The desert can be so analogous to many of our states of being: dry, vacant, lonely, distant, and struggling to find a path.
The desert offers a place for solitude, where one can be alone with oneself. It is a sacred space of absence.
I’ve found myself in a “desert” place over the last few months, particularly around my experience with Christianity. From loss of my teaching positions because a few of my views on social issues weren’t box-shaped enough, to a general distaste for how Christians engage those who need love and justice, Christianity seems to have lost is Christ-ness. Yet when you step outside the norms of evangelicalism, you feel lost, and experience a sense of loss. I’ve attempted to shift the recent parts of my narrative from a negative loss to a more positive absence. Absence is a state of being, or a place of being, where one notices that something significant is no longer present. One may long for it, but one still cherishes the things that have faded. Where loss so quickly leads to despair, absence is a place of recognized space that makes one appreciate what one had, has, and will have. Time is of no obstacle to absence.
Over Thanksgiving, I found myself still in a desert place, walking but wondering where I’m walking. Lo and behold, I found myself in a literal desert in Arizona. Even though I had the proximity of both my parents, who I was visiting, during my desert activities in Saguaro National Park and the surrounding areas, there was a sense of time to myself and a place to meet God. During the trip, I brought with my two of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho and Richard Rohr. Both spoke about desert.
In The Alchemist, Coelho writes, “…in the desert, there was only the sound of the eternal wind, and of the hoofbeats of the animals… ‘the desert is so huge, and the horizons so distant, that they make a person feel small, and as if he should remain silent.’”
And Rohr, “Nature is the one song of praise that never stops singing.”
In my literal-metaphorical desert space, my sacred space of absence, I recognized the paradoxical balance of absence and presence, of finitude and infinitude. The smallness of our journey can overwhelm us. Yet our journey is so critical. It’s a journey of Self, and of Self with God. While we are all single individuals, we are single individuals who have a divinity with us. From the perspective of God, what is more important than the individual narratives that make up community? In a place as vast and empty as the desert, one finds God. Divinity is in the desert. Rohr is correct, nature in all its glory and threat holds a divinity that helps remind us that God is present. God shows up.
My mind has so often wondered lately, what is it to be a Christian yet feel so absent from the Church? What happens when the Christian community I so loved and walked with ostracizes you because your beliefs are different? What might happen if the box-shaped-God of evangelicalism begins to break down and God becomes a vibrant force in my life? I find myself in the desert, a place of absence. The journey is grand and exactly the point. Our narrative with God matters. Even in the desert space, there I find God.