There is a desert inside of me where I wander, like a hermit, my vocabulary reduced to variations in the salinity of my tears and one Name that I give to everything. I found myself there again last night, sheltered against the wind by a robe of old rags, walking alone amidst an endless quilt of rolling dunes beneath the stars. I know I am not the Originator of this place, even though it is in me, and yet these desert treks are awash in the moonlight of Familiarity. There are no destinations, or objectives, only a continuous finding.
Something calls me there, to that desert place, some heart gravity that longs for me to crawl inside of it. When I get there, and fall to my knees on a tiny pile of sand below the most beautiful canopy of stars you can imagine, I can taste the echoes of that Call on my swollen tongue. I look up into the Heavens and I see Writing. I look down in the sands and I see the ashes of last night’s text. I look around and try to see the One who is watching me. I stare far, far into the distance and watch Him watch me.
Sometimes the wild scent of Love fills the air. You cannot imagine it. The agony is delightful. It is as if you stumbled into a bakery before dawn, and you were fresh off a ten year famine, and the oven doors were just opening, and all the transformed loaves were being pulled out to cool, filling the room with that fresh aroma. The scent of Love in a midnight desert is like that. Surely Love’s trans-national pipeline must be on the other side of the hill. It must have burst, and Love must be pouring into the air in billowing clouds. This is dangerous, because the need to strike a match comes on like a seizure. (There are no lighters in the desert, only howling animals.) I fall on my back instead to make sand angels, or run and dive off the top of a dune in an effort to fly, and just tumble and grunt for a while.
I run to crest the next dune, and look down, but there are only bones.
* * * * *
Last night was the same, but I was hunting for some One. Sometimes when I feel the desert calling, I look inside myself with x-ray vision, and I see a lamp swinging back and forth, held by a hand, casting shadows on the sands that look like kites flying across the ground. The lamp has a warm, yellow glow. It’s glass on four sides, in an iron frame, hanging on a chain, held by this One. I’m high above looking down at this lamp, and that is when my whole being becomes the desert, and the lamp is gone.
Last night I saw a yellow light off on the horizon, jittering around like a bug. I yelped and pawed at the air. I lost several hours trying to find wood to build a signal fire. Foolish. (There is no wood in the desert, only howling animals.) Then I started running. But you cannot run for long in the desert, and finally when I got to the top of the next rise, I sat down, panting and laughing and choking, and looked at that light, and I used the one Word to which my vocabulary had been reduced. I looked at that jitterbug light and I spoke that word, and I waved my hand in surrender, as if to say, “I give up. Here I am…
A desert thrush alighted on my shoulder then, and I knew something had been returned to me. She looked out with me at the horizon, her head slightly twisted to one side. We looked with one vision, and I knew I would never be without her. How can something that is inside of you ever get away? She knew how to find nourishment in empty spaces, and she was the return of that Knowledge.
* * * * *
I was walking again, with a desert thrush on my shoulder, and we rounded a dune and saw a lamp on the ground, an oasis filled with cool water, a tree or two, and a few shrubs. There’s more in this desert inside of me than I can ever really say. Rumi was seated on an old log in the shadows, eyes twinkling.
I’m praying for snow, he said.
I looked up at the cloudless sky.
Someday it will be the time of snow, he said, and tonight all beings are envisioning that moment. Creation has put out the call and we have answered. Wouldn’t snow be beautiful?
The time for calculating had passed. I love you, I said.
You love everyone, he replied. Like me. Come and sit. Pray for snow with me.
I love everyone? I looked at the lamp. I felt confusion. My place in the moment became an open question. Something threatened to crumble inside of me, and I asked myself how could I find this place, and now be standing here like an idiot, nonplussed, with my thrush returned to me and silence all around? How did I get through the desert if I still had this shame in my gut? Something in the bushes flickered, a rustling.
You there! Rumi exclaimed, leaping to his feet. You! Hiding in the bushes! Let me hide with you! Until our friend returns! And I stood perfectly still, dumbfounded, as Rumi dove into the bushes.
The thrush on my shoulder just waited, looking into the bushes.
After a time, Rumi popped his head out between some leaves and looked into me with his eyes for a moment, then offered this assessment to his hidden friend, still looking into me: He still thinks there are reasons.
We can turn moments like this into grand events, make the study of our shame an intense process, or we can realize we drank gasping draughts from the Source to quench our longing, and inadvertently got some Love down the wrong pipe. I coughed and turned red inside, and chastised myself for a moment, and wheezed and gasped for air, and my shame transformed into laughter as one more unnecessary clinging disappeared. Rumi winked at me, and I dissolved into the moment again. Next, I dove into the bushes. The thrush chirped a song of joy and leapt up into the trees.
This is my Friend, Rumi said. We are praying for snow.
In the dark, under the leaves, under the moon, under the sacred texts of the heavens, in a desert inside my heart, I said to his Friend, I love you.
Jesus said, I love you, too.
We whispered one word back and forth for a long time underneath that tiny canopy of life in that desert, and when we emerged there were little flurries of ice waving around in the sky, falling down from a cloudless sky. I realized there were thousands of people gathered around the oasis, seated on blankets, talking, reveling, dreaming. I discovered how deeply I knew each of them. I discovered that I didn’t know where my desert ended and theirs began, not here in this open Place. We all just watched as Creation unfolded around and through us. The thrush chirped to me from the top of the tree. It caught a snowflake in its beak.
Little joys can fill us up to the brim.
Sometimes a moment comes and then it goes. It doesn’t mean anything. (There is nothing to fear in the desert, only howling animals.)
Come and sit, Rumi said. Pray for sunrise with me.