They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. -Psalm 1:3
There are no streams of water here.
There is barely rain, about ten inches a year. When the wind whips, there are no leaves to catch it. When the sun blazes, there are no trees to shade you. The plants have learned to dig their roots down deep.
It is barren here in the Chihuahuan desert. My eyes are beginning to adjust from the green hills of West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee.
I feel strangely at home in the desert. It is barren, but it is beautiful. A rugged kind of beauty, a hundred shades of brown.
There are no oaks, no poplars. Only foreign plants that I describe like a child would, or an alien. A bush with green tentacles that seem to float in the sky as if it were underwater. A palm tree wearing a grass skirt. A green bush, like aloe, but with thin, prickly limbs. A cactus growing purple, plum-like fruit. I look up their names later in field guides. I say them quietly, rhythmically, to myself: ocotillo, Torrey yucca, lechaguilla, prickly-pear.
There are no rolling hills, almost nothing I recognize. But there is green. There is life, even here.
– – –
“I think your spiritual gift is resilience,” Bonnie tells me on the phone one night. I laugh. “I don’t know if that’s a real thing,” I tell her.
As we hang up the phone, I hear in my mind an old hymn we sang at church growing up. “I shall not be, I shall not be moved,” we sang. “Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters, Lord, I shall not be moved.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve had rain fall long and hard, since I’ve felt planted by the streams of water. Sometimes it seems that good moments need to be stored away, deep inside. Sometimes God comes obvious as a rainstorm, and then I don’t see him for months. Like Mary, I’ve learned to hide these things away and ponder them in my heart.
I have learned my own ways of growing green in this desert, even if it seems strange as the desert plants I can’t name. Sometimes I feel everything so deep I could cry for the beauty and sadness of it. Sometimes I just do–wash the dishes, send the emails, cook the dinner–because I just need to keep moving, and feeling is too much.
Truth is, I don’t even know the God of the rich soil anymore, the God of green hills and streams. But I am learning to see the God of dry places.
This desert God will send rain, and you do not waste a drop. But like manna, it will fall, and it will be enough. This is a metaphor, if you like.
The God of the desert does often send showers, but he grows roots deep. He makes strange things, strong things–prickly pears and mesquite, desert grasses and spindly trees and succulents. Things that take nothing but dust and sun and turn it into green, turn it into life.
As the sun beats down and the wind whips my face, I look around at the strange things, the strong things. I am one of them.
I feel God close. I hear him rustle by in the wind, feel him blaze down in the sun. And I bury this feeling deep inside. I store it up for whatever is to come.
And I pray. God of the dry places, I don’t ask for gushing water or a downpour. Only this–in the brown desert, in the blazing sun, bury my roots deep.