The Spiritual Desert

The Spiritual Desert

by Michael Comins

Prophets, kings, monks – they have all gone to the desert. Some as political refugees, some as spiritual seekers. Some have searched for God, some have been accosted by burning bushes.

Today, more and more people are following our ancestors into the desert, but it is hard to see the desert they experienced. The ancients did not tour in air-conditioned jeeps or hike with state of the art camping equipment at their disposal. To follow our predecessors spiritually, we must try, at least, to feel the desert as they did.

First and foremost, the desert is a dangerous place. Like Hagar or Elijah, you can easily lose the way, finish your water and find yourself facing collapse in a few short hours. Or you might fall prey to desert bandits. To be in the desert is to lack personal security.

The word for the desert is extreme. Since there are seldom clouds to block the sun during the day or hold the heat at night, and moderating oceans are far away, thirty and forty degree temperature swings are the norm. If the day is pleasant, the night is too cold. If the night is temperate, the daytime heat will melt your candy bar, and perhaps your equilibrium. Light is too intense for comfort. The sun blinds, dehydrates, kills. You'll never see a Bedouin resting in the sun.

In the desert, you get down to essentials. Water, shade and a bit more water. The body wants little food. A heavy pack draws moisture from your body, which evaporates so fast, you might not even notice that you are sweating.

The desert, in short, is a place where people are tested physically, and thus spiritually. If you don't know which canyons still have pools from the last rain or the secret water holes of the desert people, hope and confidence evaporate.

The desert can be mentally trying even when the body is not under duress. Quite often the horizon is a straight line. Indistinguishable washes, endless plains, the hot wind. Nothing to cling to. Nowhere to go.

Infinite space; infinite fear.


And infinite possibility. The only center is the center within, and so one looks inward. The desert is a place to become as straight as the horizon, as sharp as a thorn. Learn to live with little. Learn to live in light so bright that nothing in your soul can remain hidden. Learn to live at risk.

The contract reads: courage required.

No exceptions.


The truth is that life everywhere is just as extreme as it is in the desert. Only we do our best to believe that it isn't, and in civilization, we can easily delude ourselves into thinking that we're getting away with it.

The desert does not indulge those who cannot tell reality from a mirage. Take your rationalizations to the desert and they will lead you to your death. Pretense is not an option.

The desert is one of God's most precious gifts.

© Michael Comins