Christian Faith | Faculty | Response Magazine

Week One: A desiccated Earth awakens

Illustrations by Ivanka Demchuk & Peter Voth

Scripture: Psalm 27:14 (NRSV)

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

Question: What are you waiting on God for this year?

“Let Creation Praise”*

A Desiccated Earth

I recall my first trip to the high desert of Southern Utah, where I’d gone to hike among the red stone pillars of Arches National Monument. I had gone only a little way along the trail — marveling at the enormous spaces that dwarfed me, the immense arches and towers of impossibly red rock, the daunting expanse of Utah’s unique, pastel blue sky that seemed endless in its reach — and then I looked down. A flash of vivid color caught my eye and held it.

I was startled to see the brilliant, deep magenta of a cactus flower just off the trail. The cactus plant itself was unremarkable, except, perhaps, that it was almost completely brown, sun-cracked, wind-bent, and as far as I could tell, nibbled. The plant itself seemed more dead than alive; still, from the tip of one scarred, paddle-shaped appendage poured a marvel of brilliant color, a renewal of brilliant life.

And then, having noticed that one flower, the one burst of color, my eye was thereby led to another flower just beyond the first, and then, just beyond the second, yet another. As I raised my eyes to take in the foreground, I was startled to realize that these brilliant flowers dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see. They had been there all along, but until I had seen the first, I’d been oblivious to their presence, blind to their broadcast beauty.

In the middle of his prophecy announcing the regeneration of the earth, the holy prophet Isaiah announces, “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.” This image is one of substantial resurrection; that is, the very stuff of a desiccated earth awakens, quickens, blossoms in new life.

Recall the familiar story of the paralytic, a man whose body had withered into another sort of desert, whose body was itself devoid of life’s energies. This story has, of late, come to suggest to me my own intermittent dryness and paralysis, a bland species of despondency, a nagging sense that the evil in the world — and frankly, even the occurrences of evil in my own neighborhood — are not to be overcome. This is the sort of paralysis from which I must pray to be healed. Daily.

This image is one of substantial resurrection; that is, the very stuff of a desiccated earth awakens, quickens, blossoms in new life.

When I read again how “the man’s friends” struggled to place him before our Lord, and when I read again how Christ, seeing the faith of the friends, forgave the paralytic, I glimpse again his compassion and his power, and I glimpse as well how corporate a chore this business of healing may turn out to be. One Body. Of many.

Perhaps my own (our own?) habitual torpor might be healed this season; perhaps, at the appearance of the Word and with the faithful assistance of those who love us, this nagging sense of futility and of powerlessness might be replaced with the faith to rise up, the strength to lift our beds, the willingness to walk. And perhaps Isaiah’s words propose as well that the barren desert of human generation will also bloom and bring to lush fullness the desiccated hearts of humankind. May we become fonts of his love and mercy, and may we be wells of living water, refreshing those around us, even as we are restored.

Scott Cairns is a professor of English and the director of the MFA program at SPU. This abridged essay is reprinted with permission from Paraclete Press’ book God With Us.

*“Let Creation Praise”
Music: Based on 13th-century plainsong, arranged by James Curnow
Text: Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413)
©Curnow Music Press
SPU vocal and instrumental ensembles

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