I remember going to a conference about ten years ago and hearing a speaker talk about the idea of the desert times. He opened with this: “when you out to the desert on a day trip you are struck by its beauty and you say, ‘oh the desert is so big, an so quiet. It’s beautiful in its starkness.’ After a week in the desert, you say, ‘the desert is so big and quiet and beautiful’. After a month, you say ‘desert big. Desert quiet, so quiet’ After six months, you say, “ uh, uhhh, uhhhh.’ After a year, you just scream, ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh’”. He then concluded by saying, “Moses was in the desert for forty years, then God sent him to Egypt, only to send back to the desert for another forty years”.
I recently went through a bit of a desert time, more creatively than spiritually, although believe creativity and spirituality are heavily linked and that creativity is an extension of our spirituality.
We naturally fear the desert, it is a place of pain and deprivation. Our greatest fears are often realized in the desert. But the desert, is actually a place of refreshing and preparation. Things may die in us during the desert times, but they are things we don’t really need, they things, that the death of which only makes us stronger. Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “Life breaks all of us, and after, some of us are stronger in the broken places”, this is the essence of the desert of the desert.
Biblical, the desert is a place of preparation and renewal. After his baptism, before he began his ministry, Jesus went out into the desert and there he was tempted by the devil. This was kind of a preparation and final test before he came into what God had for him. God led the Israelites into the desert in preparation for them to take the promised land (it ended up lasting forty years because they didn’t understand what God was doing and rebelled, (Author’s note: this can happen to us too if we start to feel sorry ourselves about the fact that we’re in the desert) but it also served as a time of training for the next generation, who would succeed where their fathers failed.). And in Hosea, after God has said how he will punish the house of Israel for its wickedness, he says, “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.”
The desert is a good place if we see it for what it is, and not as some cosmic punishment or karmic shitstorm. In my time in the desert, my words dried up, I couldn’t write. There were some inner demons I needed face and some fears I needed to kill. Earlier this week, I faced those things, and today after a great conversation with a good friend in which I acknowledged what I had learned, the words returned to me.
I like that in Hosea, God says, “I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” The Valley of Achor was a particularly treacherous desert in Israel, a place where nothing grew and no one wanted to go, and God said “there I will bring you hope”.
And in truth, that is what we find in the desert, hope. We also learn a bit more about who we are and what we can handle. I urge you, that when you come to a desert, and you will, walk through it with your hands outstretched and your heart opened wide. You will get through it and you will be stronger.