Long ago I learned to love the desert. I never saw myself as a desert person, much prefering the verdant trees and rivers of the Texas Hill Country or the piney slopes of the Rocky Mountains to what I saw as the dry ugly plains of West Texas.
But living in a desert community for a few months during my four years in Israel changed my perception. We arrived in the summer with a newborn and a toddler, and to be truthful the first weeks were a montage of sand, mud, rocks, dust, and flies, backed up by a soundtrack of building noises and crying babies.
As autumn came along, it brought a change. The endless dust and flies were slowly replaced by crisp blue skies and sparkling, rain-refreshed air. I would often take the children to play on a little terrace overlooking the vast expanses of desert. To my surprise, it no longer seemed ugly, but rather held me with its silent, expectant beauty. I could sit for hours and contemplate the ever-changing shadows and hues created by sunlight and clouds. The air seemed as clean and–at least on Shabbat–as quiet as it had been at the dawn of creation. It was the same desert where prophets and seekers of wisdom had retreated to commune with God.
Soon enough, however, family reasons brought us back to the United States. While happy to be back in my hometown, I had a new kind of culture shock. After living in the desert, my American suburb seemed unbearably green and lush; the big fancy houses and cars and lawns appeared almost grotesque. I was repeatedly surprised to find myself missing what I had once thought my bane: the bareness, simplicity and dryness of the desert. I would catch myself at some large air-conditioned Texas mall, longing for a moment to be back, breathing that pristine expectant air, surrounded by the sand and silence of the desert’s vast openness.
–Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan
Resource: Neil-Douglas Klotz, a religious scholar and Sufi master who has collaborated on books with Jewish and Christian authors, authored Desert Wisdom, an anthology of myths, sacred stories and meditations from all the Abrahamic faiths of the Near East, showing our common desert roots.
Consider and Comment: Do you find beauty in the desert?
Featured Image: Judean Hills, Sue Schoenfeld via Flickr
Watch a video about an environmental apprenticeship in Israel’s Arava Desert, or return to the Gateway of Wilderness