Desert Remembrances

I’m an ocean girl. It’s not a secret. Time at the beach renews my spirt like nothing else. Imagine my surprise when I heard the song of the desert and an answering melody sprung up within my spirit. It took me totally by surprise. I’ve been to the Sonoran Desert before and been struck by its beauty. This time, though, I was startled to discover that the stark desert beauty offered renewal.

On Monday afternoon I walked through some of the easy trails at Saguaro National Park. I walked slowly because it was hot and I didn’t have good hiking boots with me, and because I was not wanting to surprise any rattle snakes enjoying the warm sun. I encountered a few people on the trails, but I was mostly alone. I marveled at the petroglyphs etched into stone that weather had not yet erased. I listened to the birdsong and watched small rodents going about their business. The desert that I had always assumed was mostly dormant, if not dead, was full of life. It has a story to tell, a song to sing.

Those couple of hours in the hot Arizona sun gave me an opportunity to breathe a little more deeply and to be still enough to listen. The variety of plant and animal life, the nearly alien landscape, the hum of insects all conspired to point toward a holy presence. In those hours it didn’t matter that I was tired. It didn’t matter that the church, on average, is reluctant to engage in conversations about mental health. It didn’t matter that the on-going world politics are disheartening and overwhelming. For a little while, I was sure that God’s abiding presence is more than enough to carry us through into a more hope-filled future.

Now as I have re-entered the cold of Minnesota, the demands of daily life, and the heaviness of the news, it’s a challenge to hold on to the glimpse of hope and peace I experienced in the desert. It’s too easy to forget that Spirit of God abides with us when night comes early, calendars are full, and the news is filled with violence and death. Yet, I heard a promise in the desert, the echoes of ancient words. The words God always offers to God’s people, no matter how far we have strayed:  Fear not. I am with you always. You are mine. I abide with you and you with me. I do not leave my people alone, ever. Someday, all will know they are loved and valued. Keep working. Hold onto hope. Take courage.

I would not have guessed that the desert could sing to me the way the ocean does. I should have, though. I’ve heard whispers of this song in the woods and mountains, in the rivers and lakes, and in the prairies and fields. Why not the desert, too. Now I wonder how to share these words of hope and promise. What would it take to wake up more people? We cannot give up. No matter how hopeless a situation seems, God is in our midst. If God is present, then there is a way through. What do we need in order to trust that the Spirit of God lives in us and through us and around us?

Amidst a forest of saguaro cacti I was reminded of God’s immediate presence. Some of those saguaro have stood for centuries, bearing witness to the wonders and secrets of creation. Many of them will remain long after my life ends. My life might be the blink of a holy eye, but it matters how I live it. Courage. Hope. Love. Does my life, does your life, reflect these things? If we fail to notice the beauty of Creation, then we fail to notice the wonders of the Creator. If we fail to nurture and care for the Earth, we fail to nurture and care for God. If we fail to live in loving relationship with ourselves and our neighbors, we fail to live in loving relationship with God.

Amidst a forest of saguaro cacti I was reminded of God’s immediate presence. Some of those saguaro have stood for centuries, bearing witness to the wonders and secrets of creation. Many of them will remain long after my life ends. My life might be the blink of a holy eye, but it matters how I live it. Courage. Hope. Love. Does my life, does your life, reflect these things? If we fail to notice the beauty of Creation, then we fail to notice the wonders of the Creator. If we fail to nurture and care for the Earth, we fail to nurture and care for God. If we fail to live in loving relationship with ourselves and our neighbors, we fail to live in loving relationship with God.

None of us can ignore the call to engage in acts of loving kindness. All the violence that breeds hopelessness in the world like a deadly plague, none of it comes from God. God’s call to each of us is one that is filled with hope, love, and courage. Are we willing to do the hard work necessary to remember that Spirit of God lives in and among us, to literally re-member (re-connect) with the vulnerable among us?

RCL – Year C – Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 10, 2019
Haggai 1:15b-2:9 with Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98 or
Job 19:23-27a with Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

About rachaelkeefe

Hi. I am a pastor, an author, a painter, and a poet. My latest book is available now to order from Chalice Press, The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention (http://amzn.to/2DZ55EU).
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