O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. -Psalm 63:1
The desert wilderness is both a primary and recurring landscape of the soul. A place of danger and unspeakable beauty; of demons, wild beasts, roaming spirits, and temptation, the desert also hosts ministering angels and offers an unhindered sphere for the encounter with God.
The desert evokes the love story of God and Israel. In the wilderness, the Hebrews came to know Yahweh after centuries of slavery in Egypt. Here, Elijah took refuge, David hid from his enemies, Jesus came to be tested.
In more prosperous times, the idea of the desert offered nostalgia. Israel forgets the bitterness of her forty year sojourn but remembers that manna tasted like honey. God forgets the golden calf and proposes to lure Israel back for a second honeymoon. Likewise, the soul forgets the privations and terror of that first plane of disorientation and only remembers opening to the Other.
The soul returns to the desert for wild beauty and wonder, perspective and unbearable intimacy. In this liminal refuge the soul comes for renewal of the sense oflonging essential to mystical life. You come to this ambiguous sanctuary to lose self-consciousness, and to gaze at ultimate Consciousness.
John the Baptist dwells in the desert completely dependent upon what God provides for him: locusts and wild honey. Pure and holy, John is the threshold guardian. He guides the way in the wilderness preaching conversion and repentance:
“To be a spectator of Reality is not enough. The awakened subject is not merely to perceive transcendent life, but to participate therein; and for this, a drastic and costly life-changing is required.” -Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism
Turn around. Repent. The Kingdom of God is at hand.