Desert Journeys 5
March 7th 2017
On our recent visit to South Africa, James and I made a journey by car across the arid Klein Karoo, a semi-desert to the east of Capetown. The Karoo is a vast expanse of dry and barren land, punctuated by a few hardy plants, and occasional fertile corridors where rivers run. Travelling in an air-conditioned vehicle hardly gives a sense of the harsh desert heat under a searing sun, but nonetheless there is something awesome about this great primordial landscape under the vast African sky which evokes a sense of wonder, and perhaps fear. It is not difficult to imagine the desert as a place of encounter with angels, or demons. Towards the end of a long day’s driving, crossing the Outeniqua mountains, the vast coastal plain opened up before us, green and beautiful. The Garden Route teemed with life, on the shores of the ocean.
Sometimes we must go to desert places. This could be voluntary; we seek silence and the uncluttered space in which to seek out a way forward, or an encounter with God. But perhaps more often we are driven into the desert by grief, abandonment, illness or anxiety. Life can become dry, frightening, and we lose our sense of direction, unable to see beyond the horizon. During a period of depression during my 20s this is how I felt. The abundance of the fertile plain, or indeed the city, seemed far away and I didn’t know the way back. Jesus also entered this desert for the forty days of Lent. Did he know what he would find there? Did he know how long it would be until he returned to his friends? One of the worst fears is that the desert takes control of us, that we will die there. Thankfully for me, I metaphorically crossed the mountains, and returned to the fertile plain. But my encounter with the desert, and what I learned of myself there, will always remain with me.
Licensed Lay Minister, All Hallows By The Tower