Desert Journeys 8
March 10th 2017
have a late 19th century map in my hallway. I doesn’t have countries on it – rather the various empires of the time: pink for the British, green for the Ottoman, orange for the Russian and so on. It shows how humankind had spread across the globe, with the major shipping routes of trade, the telegraph lines between continents and the major cities. Yet, there is next to nothing in the Arabian peninsula. It is just a barren wasteland of high desert. There is only a solitary camel train route crossing from one side of what is now Saudi Arabia to the other.
Over a hundred years after the map was made, I found myself in that desert. Oil had been found and Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud had created a nation. Riyadh, in the middle of the peninsula, is a massive, modern city – of a scale similar to those shown on my map. It is deeply impersonal with dual carriageways running throughout it. The challenges of the desert’s physical environment have morphed but remain. Life can be very lonely there; communities are separated by education level, nationality and income; there are people struggling to get by. Looking at how that city has grown out of the desert, I ponder that wildernesses aren’t just created by nature. We must make sure that in our daily lives we strive to create communities that support everyone.
Desert Journeys 7
March 9th 2017
Over the years I have had to move a few different times for different reasons. Once was family, once was university, then I decided to move to New York after university and then on to London. Each move has had its pros and cons, with the pros outweighing the cons as I have taken the plunge and uprooted and moved to new cities and counties.
Despite moving cities and countries, the one aspect tying the moves together has been the community of faith I have found. When I moved at the age of 12 from Katy in Texas to Houston, it was the community at the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church. I started attending the youth group where I found a strong group of friends who helped me to learn and grow in faith. It was within this community that I first accepted God into my life and was confirmed in the church. This experience has shaped a lot of my relationship with God as I have moved through life. At university I found the community of faith at university church immensely important as I was very far away from home. With the daily challenges of university life, the presence of the community of believers at university church helped to keep me grounded and ensure my moral compass was always in check.
But between university and coming to All Hallows, there was a ‘time in the wilderness’. For the first time in a long time and for a long time I was not part of a community of faith. I would attend the odd service with friends and family when I could, but I wasn’t a member of their communities. During this period, I knew I was not alone, as I have a strong sense of God and my relationship is strong. But my experience with God was incomplete. I am thankful to have found All Hallows and the community of faith here because it has reminded me of a very important aspect of the religious experience that had been missing from my life for a very long time.
Desert Journeys 6
March 8th 2017
‘I cared for you in the wilderness, In the land of drought.’ Hosea 13:5
Caring for each other is more important than ever in these times of hardship for many. The City is an unforgiving place to be when we are in a drought of empathy. Events, circumstances and people change around us and we can be wrenched from our roots and become like tumbleweed in the desert, strewn to and fro.
Rootlessness is a major problem today. It is at these times that we must care for those who are less fortunate: we must consider how we can push back our negativity when confronted with the effects of poverty, and give back. We have a glut of good things in the City and opportunities where we can share are there even if we are not so flush ourselves. My wife had a bag full of left over sandwiches from a training session. She took them to give to needy/homeless people on the streets rather than see them thrown away. A simple act of seizing the opportunity to give back.
I met a young lady, Ayana, an asylum seeker, who is bright and intelligent. She fled from Ethiopia as her life had become intolerable. At 22 Ayana was split from her home and family and found herself like tumbleweed in London, unhappy and bereft. Ayana was eventually put in contact with roomforrefugees.com and paired with Rose Marie, who offered her a room in her house. This simple act of generosity has given Ayana security and hope. It was fascinating to hear the story of both the women, who each get a lot from the arrangement. Just talking to them I felt there was a great light that shines in the union for both Rose Marie and vulnerable Ayana – the beautiful flower of the desert.
For Ayana the tumbleweed has taken root for now. Hopefully her asylum application will be processed soon, for here is a soul who has so much to contribute to the world, yet who cannot work because of the asylum rules. Maybe soon she will be allowed to plant herself where she would like to be – not strewn like the tumbleweed in the desert – and give back.
‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’ Isaiah 43:19
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
Desert Journeys 4
March 6th 2017
When one says the word ‘desert’ a great many things come to mind. Most think of sand or sun, many think of thirst or hunger; but before all those things, I find myself spelling it out loud in a desperate attempt to not write ‘dessert’. It’s silly really, I know that. It’s just one letter, and at 26 years old (with a degree in English, no less) I should really know the difference by now.
But language is a strange and curious thing: add one letter to a word and a completely different one appears; put a comma in the wrong place and the entire meaning of a phrase changes. And that’s just within English. Look further to the thousands of languages and dialects in the world, and it’s a wonder we understand each other at all.
The language of faith operates in the same way. How many times have we jumped to conclusions or misunderstood what God is telling us? How often are we quick to judge others’ relationships with Jesus, based on how we understand Him? As Christians, I believe we are aiming for Godliness, but because we all speak a different and unique dialect of the language of faith, things are getting lost in translation. This Lent season, I hope we will be able to step back and ask God for clarity and wisdom. We are all different but we must all ask: Are we genuinely listening to Him? And, if so, are we understanding?
Media and Communications, All Hallows By The Tower
Desert Journeys 3
March 3rd 2017
It’s funny how words can conjure up so many, often conflicting, images and emotions. For me the desert brings to mind camel trains crossing the sand dunes, Tuareg camp fires burning in the dark of night, and Indiana Jones type escapades in search of lost treasure. And yet there is also a sense of intense heat and raging thirst, and a feeling of insignificance in the midst of such a vast, arid landscape.
When I consider the desert in terms of my faith, these same thoughts often apply. Sometimes it feels like an adventure of discovery, with the possibility of some great pearl of wisdom waiting to be found. At other times it feels more like a long, hard slog, draining my energy and leaving me feeling unsatisfied and thirsty for more. It can be unsettling and isolating to be in the desert, but it also challenges me to consider things more deeply and hopefully grow stronger at the same time.
And I know that, even as I wander around aimlessly, getting lost and feeling exhausted, there is always the hope of discovering new and unexpected places, and the anticipation of eventually arriving at the longed for desert oasis, where all my needs will be met and my faith refreshed in streams of living water.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
Operations Manager, All Hallows By The Tower
Desert Journeys 2
March 2nd 2017
I am fascinated by the City of London, and the ways in which I can both be in the midst of so many people and yet at the same time feel so isolated. Walking from one place to the other for a meeting, there can be a sense of utter isolation as so many are jostling for space on the streets as they go about their business.
I occasionally find it disturbing to realise that I matter less to others than their next task, their next destination. I am simply in their way. It can be quite a devastating thought.
On Ash Wednesday, we were reminded of our mortality. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. It is not a morbid thought, but instead a wake up call to us who believe we are immortal and in full control of our lives. Our human bodies are frail and utterly reliant on God for their sustenance and sustainability.
It is when I am able to confront death that my soul can start grappling with what is truly important in life, and rest into the mystery and love of God.
This Lent, I want to practice a more intentional way to be in the presence of God in the midst of the City of London. Like the early monastics in the desert, I want to slow down, notice the signs of God’s presence all around – particularly by lifting my eyes above the clamour of the crowd, or finding signs of renewal in our green spaces or seeking and contributing to places of community.
Above all, my focus is on remembering that – even in the midst of the City – bidden or unbidden, God is here – and each and every one of us is loved, and matters.
Vicar, All Hallows By The Tower
Desert Journeys 1
March 1st 2017
Today is Ash Wednesday, when we are invited to travel with Jesus out of our comfort zone and into the wilderness and to follow him as he experiences temptation and hardship. In his desert journey, he was completing a biblical tradition. Moses and Elijah met God in the desert, and John the Baptist first appeared there as a voice crying out in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the kingdom.
I can’t help thinking of the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa today, and the many refugee and migrant journeys that have been made across them over the last year. As it was for the Israelites fleeing from their Egyptian oppressors, for those escaping war in Syria or poverty in Africa the desert has been a place of hope but also great suffering and danger, especially for children. The ashes many people will receive on their foreheads today are a sign of our mortality and remind us of the fragility of human life. Where is God in this? The recent outcry at the dropping of the Dubs scheme to take in 3,000 unaccompanied children is to me a sign of God on the move, pricking consciences and prodding us into action. From the desert of the camps we are being called to resist Europe’s increasingly strident rhetoric on refugees and to think honestly how we can work towards bringing in his kingdom – to be the voice that ‘cries in the wilderness’ and prepares his way.
Associate Priest, All Hallows by the Tower