Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
-Isaiah 43: 16-21
When I was growing up I used to spend my summers in the Mojave Desert in California. My grandparents retired there, leaving the suburbs of Los Angeles where they raised my mom and two aunts. I used to love those summers. It was hot, but the desert was beautiful. Some years it was so dry, other years the cactus flowers bloomed right after a temporary rainstorm. My grandmother’s extra freezer stocked lots of ice cream and the extra heat of each day was a good excuse to have that cold treat every night after dinner. In the desert you’d get up early and go out late to enjoy outdoor activities, and hibernate inside in the air conditioning of the house or oftentimes the mall or movie theatre during the middle part of the day that was the hottest. The thing I remember most from growing up in those desert summers was the changing colors of the desert mountains, the contours that were so different than the East Coast where I lived the rest of the year. We’d often drive about 45 minutes to the Joshua Tree National Park, home of the famous Joshua Trees, these strangely beautiful desert trees and the large rock formations around them. The desert always felt like an other-worldly place and as a child, it was the place I explored with my grandparents; so it was the place without too many rules, lots of time to go swimming in the pool, plenty of time to languish and rest, and of course to be spoiled. I loved my summers in the desert and I miss them today. Those childhood luxuries are something very special.
The image of the desert in the passage from Isaiah stuck with me and invited me into the memory of those summers.
What memory in your life is like my memory of the desert in my life? What memory invites in you feelings of love, safety, joy, fun and play? What happens to your soul when you allow it to take in that memory, bask in its warmth?
I feel like this is what Isaiah is trying to get us to understand–that a memory like this is an opportunity for a glimpse into some of what God might be providing for us: a place of exploration, growth, beauty, play and rest. Water in the desert. Hope in a dry place.
We expend a lot of energy today in the Church trying to figure out, even trying to “game” what the New Thing is that is happening to the beloved Church. We look around and sometimes see a desert before us–a harsh climate in which to engage ministry, a place that is no longer hospitable to most life. We wonder if we are wandering, and we wonder where water and hope will come from. Sometimes we feel like we are in a desolate place.
While these are themes that are perhaps difficult to engage–it is Lent, this holy season of turning into the challenge and trusting that God will make a way. Lent is the opportunity to reconnect with the Spirit of new life, hope in the resurrection; even in the face of the death and emptiness of the Cross.
Blessings to you in these waning days of Lent. May you see rivers in the deserts and a way in the wilderness….God is making a way and the desert does always bloom again!