At the Edge of the Desert

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The high point of our tour through Morocco was always meant to be the camel ride in the desert.

The trip was designed that way; it was a big, country-wide loop. We began in the Moroccan port city of Tangier, having arrived from Spain by way of the Strait of Gibraltar. Our tour set out from there, weaving through towns big and small, but always with the promising allure of the Saharan Desert drawing nearer and nearer.

We’re going to ride camels in the desert.

Even in a country so rich in culture and history, the mystique of the desert remained top of mind. My wife and I were giddy. What an adventure! I remember the night we arrived at the outskirts of the Sahara. Our little group was treated to a simple meal of roasted veggies and couscous. It was to be an early night, because it would be an early morning.

We were assigned tents out in the sands and advised to dress warmly. The desert was cold and unforgiving. “When we wake you up, get up,” our guides said. “We need to leave on time if we’re going to see the sun rise.”

It was four o’clock when that wake-up call came. We stumbled out of our tent, groggy and irritable, but excited. We climbed atop our camels, clinging tightly to the animals as we plodded further into the desert in a line of camels, sleepy-eyed tourists, and Berber guides.

And then we saw the sunrise: that casting away of cold and dark and dreariness. Light tearing through the sands. Beauty and wonder and majesty. The promise of the desert.

In some ways, we’re all in those tents now, cold but curious, as we wait upon the outskirts of our own Lenten deserts. That image of the desert is one we readily reach for as we reflect on those 40 days leading up to Easter. After all, Jesus spent that same amount of time in the desert. There, he was tempted.

But we know that temptations come fast and furious, desert or no desert. We don’t need to seclude ourselves to experience what it means to be seduced by the Evil Spirit.

Instead, I like the image of the desert as one of mystery, promise, and potential. I remember the eagerness with which my wife and I curled up in our tent, wondering what that moment of adventure would bring.

We’d seen plenty of movies. We’d ridden camels at the zoo. But to enter into the real experience of feeling the harsh cold and grains of sand and then witnessing the glimmering sun bouncing off dunes as far as the eye could see was something very different.

As we stand here, now, on the cusp of Lent, I wonder how we might coax from the embers of our own spiritual selves that desire to be awed this season. What disposition do we need as we look out over the dunes at the journey we are about to undertake as the People of God? What of the real might we touch through our spiritual disciplines?

We plan to pray, fast, and give—sure. These are things we can readily see and do. And we should! But this Lent, my prayer for all of us is that we be struck by God’s goodness, by God’s great mystery, by Christ glimmering across every facet of our lives.

I believe God desires to share that beauty with us. And so, in the same way that my wife and I prepared ourselves for an experience we could only guess at, let us make ready ourselves for something even more awe-inspiring as we prepare to embark on our own Lenten desert journeys.

Because camel or no, early wake-up call or no, we all will have the opportunity to dance in that glorious sunrise of Easter.

Discover Ignatian-inspired ways to observe Lent.

Photo by Mehdi El marouazi on Unsplash.

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