Enormous events have taken place in desert places. Some have been spiritual, some confrontational, some solitary, some involving huge armies. But the desert itself remains, and the silence remains when all else is gone. My experience of desert came in Nevada. I loved the promise of the silence, but shrank from the memory of the nuclear testing which had taken place there. It was as if I was encountering my own devils in God’s silence.
So this is a desert. Grey dust
stretches for miles to rumpled hills –
dust peppered with puffs of thorn
and punctuated by tall spiked shapes.
A heavy silence presses on the ears
which pound in answer as the blood
rushes round. There is no other sound.
No bird sings, no creeping thing
rustles the dry leaves, no water
drips or seeps. The huge pale sky
is windless, and the straight road
an empty slash to the far haze.
God, we are small. But in this place
man became so huge that worlds quake,
in the hideous paradox of size
destroying with the particles of God:
creators of deserts still to be.
Is it here, God, in this garden
where the light wind stirs the leaves
silvered in the hard blue moonlight
– is it here that we must struggle
in the dialogue of self with self?
But the words are hardly spoken
when the vast and swelling ache
– a kind of joy, but of such sharpness
that I gasp, and words are stilled –
of the God so close within me
grows and self is marginalised,
pushed towards the edge of being
so that all I know is Him.
In this sudden fiery knowledge
friends who cannot understand
seem ephemeral and tiny –
Pray, I tell them, watch and pray,
as it comes upon me fiercely
that the end is here, this night,
that the God I carry in me
brooks no shrinking from this goal.
Now my soft palms spread in pleading
look so gentle, feel so dear
and this vulnerable body
breathes and weeps in dread of pain,
till the world turns and the strangers
bring this night watch to its close
and the brother’s kiss of greeting
a last gentle touch of love.
I wish I knew how to post this so that the previous post came after it chronologically, but I don’t. It was written during the Maundy Watch last year. (done. KB)