Monday, June 6, 2011

God is a desert

I recently started reading a book called The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring desert and mountain spirituality by Belden Lane. This has been on my amazon wishlist forever and I finally sucked it up and bought it. I have always been enchanted by mountain and desert terrain. I remember flying over the Himalayas on my way to Kathmandu, tears streaming down my face from the beauty of seeing mountain tops soaring higher than the clouds themselves. A weird paradox occurs in those moments: I'm humbled by own smallness in comparison, my questions become irrelevant even as they grow louder in my ears. Maybe that's why I crave these landscapes so much.

I don't know how to be silent before God. We live in a culture of constant noise and busyness and Christians have lost the art of being still. As my expectations of how God will speak to me have changed over the last year, I have found myself longing for a more meaningful approach to Him- one that is not so dependent on emotion and experience.  I confess that even as I've been reading this book, I've fallen into the trap of thinking, "If I can just get away, if I can just visit a desert monastery, THERE I'll find God. THERE I'll experience Him in the the way I should." In chapter 1, Belden Lane says, "Holiness has never been a predetermined result of topography...The danger of simplistic geographical determinism in the spiritual life is that it makes everything too easy...I can imagine that finding the right desert monastery, making the best mountain retreat, will occasion in itself involuntary holiness. But the desert, the mountain, offer no such guarantee. Physically being there is never enough. Growth of the spiritual life requires adopting a conscious 'habit of being'. Far too easily do we embrace the illusion that changing places is the simplest way of changing ourselves." This has been the story of my life so far. I have  had this impossible expectation of how my life as a Believer should look, and each time the expectation is not met I go searching for conditions where it will be met. When I do this or this or that, then God will start talking to me whenever I want Him to. When I go here or there, my faith will be more than a mustard seed. But even as Belden warns against thinking a certain terrain will produce unwarranted holiness, he does suggest that fierce landscapes are a sort of classroom where we practice and learn how to "ignore the inessential in our own lives."

Many of our church fathers and mothers over the years have been desert Christians who have participated in this classroom. One of the lessons that can be distilled from their writings is this:

"God is a desert whose fullness of glory is hidden from human sight, known only in an unknowing and risking of love."

Despite hating risk, I really love that idea. What do you think about it? I'm really only about 14 pages into this book, so this is only the tip of the iceberg. In what ways do harsh landscapes convey truth about God? In what way is God both living water and desert?

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if you've read Eugene Peterson's memoir but he hits at this in the end, pondering on how the land where Israels story is enacted is and unremarkable and concludes with this line by Barth about how it's only where there are graves that you find resurrection.

    For me engaging with God is always risky and entering into unknowing because entering into relationship with anyone demands risk, and mystery and giving up of our belief in our autonomy.