In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. Deut 32:10
It seems that when most people go to the desert, they see desolation and emptiness.
Sticker bushes and snakes. They don’t like it. In Scriptures, the desert, and wilderness, are a metaphor for suffering and separation from God, from love.
But I see beauty there. Harshness, too, but there is also harmony, purity, clarity. There are glimpses of “small beauty” and “large-scale beauty”. There are surprising glimpses of life and renewal. I see solitude, but not loneliness.
It has been hard for me to relate to the desert metaphor, to feel it deeply and identify. I can be very literal about these things, and I do see the actual desert as so different from that metaphor. Until our road trip south this past spring. I made a connection. For me, the city is my desert.
I see desolation there, abandonment, darkness and danger. Dirt, pollution, poverty, classicism, racism, greed. The harshness in the city is no less deadly than that of the desert, but even more painful in the midst of indifferent, unseeing crowds.
I am slowly teaching myself to find beauty and grace in the city, to try and see past the rushing franticness, the apathy, the greed, the violence and anger. To see the people behind the masks they wear, and to look for the small beauties in the cityscape as well.
There are moments of human kindness: a cashier waits patiently while a customer fumbles unsuccessfully for enough change in her purse, beginning to decide which of her staple items to put back–and someone in line behind them steps up and pays the bill for a week of groceries. (this actually happens more than you would think).
A kindergartner asks what the Red Cross donation box is for, and upon hearing that it is to help people who lose their house in a fire or flood, instantly chooses to put all of his money in the donation box instead of in the vending machine.
There are many small visions of grace and life. I walk through this very alley on my way to work. One side are these buildings–on the other, a shabby office building with a metal hand rail lining the cracked concrete steps, surrounded by blue dumpsters. But up the railing grow 2 lush, green, blooming, thriving jasmine plants—filling the alley with the rich fragrance and perfume of flowers. It is a beautiful thing.