“We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them;
we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them,
but to find out the way to do them the most good.”
A number of years ago, we made several trips to Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. We spent our time visiting historic sites and national parks, hiking through slot canyons, across unfamiliar desert landscapes. Somehow, I felt drawn to these arid plains, with their wide open spaces, unusual formations and hidden canyons.
I remember one evening, driving to a place where we could walk out into the desert and watch the light of the day slide behind the mountains. I felt a need to know her better. To understand the ways in which dusk fell upon the sand.
I felt a strange kinship with this desert landscape with its remarkable land formations shaped by a millennia of time and wind and water.
There is a sense of desolation to a desert – one that pries open a woman’s heart and peels back the edges.
And I felt this each time we visited… like I’d been laid bare. It was dry and cracked, like me; aging, yet I felt its mother wisdom and deep reverence for the continuance and mystery of life. The wind blows, the sand shifts and something hidden is revealed. Or something that appears so bold and beautiful, slips gently away, like it never was.
I’ve thought often about these places…in recent years, wistfully, as we’ve not been able to return. And always, I wondered what it was that so earnestly reached into the heart of this child of forest and stream. Indeed, on our first visit there, after several weeks, we drove to the top of Mt. Lemmon in Tucson where we hiked amidst the trees, feeling refreshed…like we needed to taste something familiar. But then we were back again, among the cactus, eyes wide open.
Lately, I’ve been reading some about the spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers who lived in the Egyptian desert in the 4th and 5th centuries. I wonder, sometimes, if we are called to barren places to enable us to see more clearly how to live amongst the trees; if we are called to aloneness to discover how we might best live in community; if we are called to silence, to teach us the value of words.
Now, in the looking back, I see these visits as precursor of my own inner journey that would come, where I have walked the canyons of my heart, touching the stories etched on these hidden walls, tracing the cracks and sorrows, the splashes of light, watching for what lies hidden beneath the shifting sand.
” For your sake, I hurry over land and water:
For your sake, I cross the desert and split the mountain in two,
And turn my face from all things,
Until the time I reach the place
Where I am alone with You.”
~Al Hallaj, To Reach God