Thus says YAHWEH, who made a way through the sea,…No need to remember past events, no need to think about what was done before. Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges; can you not see it? Yes, I am making a road in the desert and rivers in the wastelands…for my people, my chosen one, to drink.
– Isaiah 43:16, 18-20
Our church staff went on our annual retreat last week. A couple of the highlights (in addition to playing cards and late night talks) were practicing the spiritual discipline of daily prayers using Phyllis Tickle’s prayer book, The Divine Hours, and having Sibyl Towner come and lead our church staff in her life mapping material for two of the days.
The above passage was from our reading the last morning of our retreat. Sibyl also led us in a visual journaling experience. The theme of “desert” was prominent on my mind and heart that morning and I kept on bumping into it.
Part of the reason is that I love being in high deserts. I think they are places of immense beauty, expansive vistas, and evoke deep emotion within me. One of my favorite deserts is Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. When we lived there while I was attending Fuller, we went to Joshua Tree often. I had several deep emotional and spiritual reactions there on each visit. One visit in particular I remember sitting on the top of a boulder in the middle of wide open space, surrounded by Joshua Trees and boulders scattered about with mountains way off in the distance. It was early morning, very quiet, not much wind. I had a lot to process as we were getting ready to move back to Cincinnati. It was a time of deep transition and I wasn’t sure how to process all that I was experiencing. In many ways, I felt like some would view the desert: barren, lonely, and in need of something to hang on to.
As I sat there with my journal, thoughts, and prayers, I began to feel and hear a subtle breeze. As I looked down on the desert floor, I began to see so much life around me. A rabbit, a bird, a beautiful cactus, and other living things…in this barren place, life was coming into focus all around me. It became an overwhelming experience where I began to sense that I was truly not alone and the realization that God was with me and wanted to give me life in deeper ways than simply living.
I remember those moments in my life, especially when I feel like I’m in barren places within me and around me. I am reminded of looking for signs of life, moments in our days and lives when we experience God.
I’m not sure what 2013 was like for you or the beginning of 2014. Maybe you, like me, have experienced some times in the desert this past year. Maybe you are in the midst of transitions in life and in need of reminders that you are not alone and that life is springing up all around you.
It was a good retreat. If for no other reason than this: to be reminded that God surrounds us with community that has life when we stop, listen, and really look. And, that we have a God who is intensely loyal to us and whispers gently in our ears that we are not alone and that someOne believes in us.