Just behind my hotel, near San Francisco, it is not an inviting environment. But the trendy nearby downtown, where I had started my 8:18 walk, had provided nothing of interest, so before I give up and retire to my room, I turn aside to give this uninviting shoreline a chance.
I start to walk along the high bank. Below me, the exposed mud stinks. The elevated shoreline under my feet is built upon great chunks of used concrete with rebar poking up like twisted, dead saplings. The asphalt pathway is so uneven, there is a sign to warn pedestrians.
In the center of the bay (more like a wide canal) run power lines. On one of the towers, large birds congregate – cormorants, doing their best imitation of a gang of brooding vultures.
It’s interesting how central the wilderness is in the story of God’s people in Scripture. The people of Israel have a long sojourn in it on the way to the Promised Land, then, from their lack of faith, wander in it for another generation. In the New Testament, John the Baptist sets up his ministry in the wilderness. And Jesus faces off with Satan in it before beginning his ministry.
Wilderness experiences are deeply profound. Through them, God demonstrates to us our utter dependence on him. Stripped of our comforts – and often, our sense of direction – we have little choice but to cling to him as we move forward. Every little provision, each reminder of life in the bleak landscape, is a precious gift.
As Moses recounts Israel’s journey in Deuteronomy 1, he says,
“…and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.”
So, I begin to look for some sign of God – a hint of beauty and order. It doesn’t take me long to find it, for even tiny petals of color stand out in the muted earthtones.
Even the lichen-covered branches of a bush have their own stark loveliness of detail.
It reminds me God’s promise in Isaiah that in the coming Kingdom, the wilderness – a symbol of deprivation and desperate longing – will be transformed:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus. (Isaiah 35:1)
I find this habitat’s version of crocus blossoms. And they remind me that God is in the desolate places. That in my own, ongoing wilderness wandering, God is very present. Walking with me. Providing answers in small, surprising ways – made all the more delightful by their contrast to the surrounding setting.
We are so reluctant to follow you into the wilderness, Lord. And yet we know that wherever you are, there is life, and blessings abound. And that eventually, even what seemed to be the most unfruitful landscapes in our lives will be redeemed and blossom. We believe it because we believe you.
Reader – how has God brought beauty into your wilderness?