I have been dreaming of deserts. It seems ironic, since I have spent so much time in the water recently, letting it embrace and comfort me. The first dream seemed to be of the Sahara, my image of it in Algeria. The second one seemed like an American desert, perhaps Ica in Peru.
Maybe I have dreamt of deserts because I have been reading about them. I pondered the story of Elijah fleeing tribulation and death to find his living God in a gentle whisper at Mount Horeb (I Kings 19).
And in The English Patient I reread the story of Almásy in the Egyptian-Lybian desert. In the Gilf Kebir, Almásy found love with Katharine–a passionate erotic love that became possessive and destructive. But he also discovered that the desert was the only place where he could experience the presence or the reality of God. The scene when he and his fellow explorer Madox say goodbye, ceasing their explorations of the desert at the onset of World War II, is revealing:
May God make safety your companion, Madox had said. Good-bye. A wave. There is God only in the desert, [Almásy] wanted to acknowledge that now. Outside of this there was just trade and power, money and war. Financial and military despots shaped the world.The English Patient
“There is God only in the desert.” Am I searching for God in my dreams? I do not mean a supernatural or transcendental person. I mean God as the creative power of agape, God as the productive, poietic thrust of Natura Naturans or Nature Naturing that brings about natural environments and their inhabitants.
As I ponder this question I remember the writing of my friend Robert King, philosopher from Utah. He is a lover of Nature as the site of encounter with creativity and grace. He writes of the desert of southwestern United States as the “Land of Enchantment”:
The cultural work of the Southwest desert…is one of re-enchantment, of spiritual renewal and the recovery of a religious dimension in a post-orthodox context.
By a post-orthodox context he means one in which God is not a supernatural person overseeing the doings and undergoings of mortals, with a view to offering salvation or punishment, but one in which Divine Power acts through the creative thrust of Nature. For such religious naturalism, God is experienced not only as the rocks, cacti, oasis, and stars of the desert —Natura Naturata, natural things– but as Nature Naturing, creative Nature in action.
Is that what my unconscious mind and my heart of hearts is seeking in dreams? The possibility of enjoying a “redemptive and transforming grace in the desert,” as Robert puts it?
May I have the wisdom to discover it. And may I one day have the joy of traveling to the desert.
Reference: Robert King, “The Man Who Walked Through Signs: Colin Fletcher, Robert S. Corrington, and the ‘Depth Dimension’ of Nature Naturing.” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 8(2): 2014.
Cover photo: The Sahara Desert’s sandy and rocky terrain in central Algeria, captured by the Sentinel-2A satellite in its first-ever scan of Earth on 27 June 2015. European Space Agency)