Having spent a week in the Arizona desert surrounded by memories of other times and places, I have greater sympathy for those ancient Israelites. The heat of the sun and the strange, twisted nostalgia that loss brings conspire to make the past much better than it was. Looking around at the dusty landscape makes one question how any life thrives there, let alone human life.
There is something else that lives in the desert, though. If it’s possible to stop and take a deep breath, there is an austere beauty. The mountains in the distance whisper of mysteries long forgotten. The spirit of this place—ancient, simmering, hidden—points toward a holiness. It is impossible to hide from God in desert places, but it is very easy to forget God’s presence, God’s abundance, and clamor for more than what is.
The mistake is in thinking that water will quench the thirst that seems constant or that a bit of manna will quench the hunger. It is only in the moments of quiet stillness that a soul can be satisfied. What if all those on that ancient journey took a moment to look around, to appreciate their freedom, to recognize God’s presence with them, to imagine the good things God had in store for them. To do all these things and give thanks instead of crying out for more, and more, and more. What if we all did the same?
I’m not a fan of the desert, but I do appreciate it’s beauty and the tenacity of life that grows there. I also think everyone should wander through a desert at least once just to realize how precious and fragile her or his life really is… and to get a sense of God’s abiding presence in the barren places.
RCL – Year A – Fifteen Sunday after Pentecost – September 21, 2014
Exodus 16:2-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 or
Jonah 3:10-4:11 with Psalm 145:1-8