Friday noon, I ate my lunch while perched on a flat boulder in the shade of a giant juniper tree. When I am backpacking I become expert at finding rest spots in the shade, boulders with flat spots to take the weight of my pack and just the right height for sitting. I seldom pass one by. This particular find was near the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains, and in addition to shade and rest it provided a stunning view across the Chihuahuan Desert toward the Sierra del Carmen Mountain Range in Mexico.
I realize these desert views are an acquired taste. Not everyone enjoys them like I do, and I don’t enjoy them to exclusion of all else. Given a choice in backpacking trips I’d prefer green forests, mountain streams, and high-altitude cool air. I’d rather hike somewhere I don’t have to carry my own water, a gallon per day.
But there is clarity and honesty here. The desert doesn’t care if we like it, doesn’t try to be hospitable. It makes us feel like visitors, aliens, able to survive only if we plan ahead and bring food and water. There is no living off the land in this wild country. There is no shade, no shelter, no respite, no compassion. This is a take-it-or-leave it world.
The view from the South Rim is also striking because it is so abrupt. Standing on the edge, you are at 7,000’ elevation. The cliff drops instantly 1,000’, then another 3,000’ over the next few miles. It’s impressive in the complete lack of transition.
I’m not a black-or-white thinker; not binary. While I value my own considered opinions, generally assuming I’m always right and always smartest (sorry), I actually change my mind about important things more often than you might assume. I’m constantly reevaluating and reconsidering what I know and believe. I spend most of my thinking in the gray areas, in the transitions, considering options and weighing opinions. That’s one reason I’m drawn to places in the world where there are no easy transitions; they touch the part of my heart that longs for absolutes.
I recently looked into my very first writing journal, from 1995, and on the first page I found this prompt: “Write about things without transitions and how I feel about them … such as the cliffs at Dover, Crater Lake, Manhattan, Palo Duro Canyon.” I’m sure I would have included the South Rim had I experienced it back then.
This past month I reread Calvin Miller’s book, Into the Depths of God, and in it he quoted Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Miller asked: So why don’t we do it – why don’t we deny ourselves?
One reason is we focus too much on the braking system of our life rather than the steering wheel. We worry more about how to stop sinning than about how to live. Miller wrote, We should spend less time asking, Can I put the brakes on life? and more time asking, Where do I want to go in life?
There is deep magic in the Chihuahuan Desert. Even the gray-brown color palette is beautiful in its subtleties. The infinite view, blocked only by the curvature of the earth, speaks to the eternity God placed in our hearts. It makes me feel transcendent. It makes me want to do more with my life.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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