The seat in the back of the bus, isolated, by the aisle, from the pair of seats across from it– that was mine.
I went for the quiet spot after my weekend in a northern city, a good visit with good people, who are becoming friends. My feet scrunched beneath me, my shoulders leaning into the seat back, I turned my head to the window.
There was nothing to see but desert.
That’s how it seemed. Four hours of sand, dotted by a few small population centers. The barren stretches broken occasionally by petrol stations, mosques, or coffee shops, satisfying the desires of this region’s travelers. Another lonely section of desert… then a small flock of goats, with a donkey-riding shepherd. Much further down the road, more goats, perched high on seemingly unclimbable rocks. Their shepherds were out of sight. The animals stared down, irritated with our bus’ intrusion.
And a pale moon crept two-thirds of the way to the summit of an azure sky.
Why, I wondered, do people choose to make their home in the desert? Why did the “desert fathers” and “desert mothers” pick hot, waterless places to commune with God? Why did so many from Scripture go there when life overwhelmed them and they wanted to run?
I want to run sometimes– not toward the desert, though. Away. Away. Away from the heat, the dirt, the limits of communication, the scarcity of water, the never-knowing of when I’ll “be there”/arrive. From the mirages that confuse and disorient, no matter how hard I blink. From the isolation and steady sameness of tan-on-blue, one kilometer after another…
My four-year-old nephew, on hearing about where I live– and the camels I see regularly– informed the family, “I wish I lived in the desert!” The ancient king, David, said the same thing (Psalm 55). Hagar fled there when her place in the family felt untenable; she was driven there later when it got worse (Genesis 16, 21).
The desolate places became holy points of revelation and resources. God still wants to meet us there. Provide shelter. Open our eyes to the sources we didn’t realize we had. Tell us that He sees us. The God who sees me— Hagar’s name for Him after their first desert connection.
My fleeting desire to run is swallowed by the immense possibilities of the desert. Unexpected rains have coaxed a bit of green out of dry places. Most desert days come with a monotony of tan-on-blue, with heat and dryness, and with uncertain vision. But they are dotted by outposts that meet my deepest needs, and met by the steadiness of the rising moon.
And I am asking, with Hagar, to say this in the desert: “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).