Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Desert of the Real

Jamie Oliver's taller buffer blonder doppelganger, an Afrikaner from Capetown, and I were lounged about on piles of brightly woven cushions in the middle of the Oman desert. Through the strawberry-flavoured shisha smoke, we could just make out a twinkling star or two in the night sky overhead, a pair of winking voyeuristic satellites perhaps, or balls of plasma which had, in the intervening lightyears, since fizzed into cosmic dust oblivion.

Dune-bashingView from 4x4
In our pants, a different sort of dust, from hours of dune-bashing in a tyre-pressure-lowered 4X4 driven by Dubai-born Pakistani with a passion for loud Indian music, from sandboarding down silken dunes with used snowboards and from no-holds-barred (and no safety roll bars) quad-biking.

Dinner in Desert
Despite the driver becoming increasingly reckless after breaking up with his girlfriend via sms while charging up a 45 degree dune, we managed not to flip over and break any vertebrae and by nightfall, had stopped at a campsite to top up our tummies with pita bread, hommus, chickpeas, tabbouleh, biryani and kebabs.

Indulging in a postprandial huddle with the aforementioned strawberry molasses, we were surrounded by, well, nothing. To our right, nothing but sand flats reaching into darkness. To our left, nothing but sand flats and darkness again. Nothingness in front, nothingness behind us. Lyrical waxers love a void and the Afrikaner was filling it with loving accounts of the Kalahari Desert. The Kalahari Desert isn't a real desert of course. Being home to silly creatures like hyenas and meerkats and having a bit of telltale savannah grass showing means that the Kalahari is merely a mock-Tudor Surrey-style noveau-riche wannabe desert. Still. nothing a hot blast of global warming can't fix.

Back in Dubai, where housewives were getting the groceries in Porsche Cayennes, stretch Hummers were family cars (how else to fit 4 families into 1 car?) and the Bugatti Veyrons in the Dubai Motorshow were so ugly someone ought to have smacked the designer when he unfurled his plans, I was putting up with a friend (rather, he was putting up with me tracking half the desert into his posh apartment) and we were up late one night catching up and chatting about the wonder of deserts.

There's nothing like a vast sandpit to spark all sorts of Exodus-related free associations with us Christians. (Apparently, the Hebrews, like the Eskimos for snow, had several words for desert: midhbar, chorbah, yeshimon, `arabhah, tsiyah, tohu; eremos, eremia.) Standing in the midst of its silent barren barrenness, having first come out of the noisy cosmopolitan conspicuous consumption of Dubai, we could empathise with the constant grumbles of the Israelites that so annoyed poor old Moses (Exodus 16:1-3, Exodus 17:3, Numbers 14:2). Contrast weeks of no respite from the monotonous scenery broken only by bitter harrassed scrubbery with the colours and smells of a happening city with its busy marketplaces and magnificent monuments bedecked with decorative stones and advances in writing and literature and art; contrast having nothing but manna and quail for every meal (surely, there are only so many ways of cooking quail) with the rich produce from the fertile Nile lands - barley, wheat, emmer, pots of meat, as much bread as they could eat (Exodus 16:3), water on tap (cf Exodus 17:1-3), and a bit of slavery and a few licks of the master's whip every night wouldn't seem so bad.

How blinkered and narrow-minded. A famished Jesus, faced with a similar temptation to doubt God's goodness in the desert, had his wits about him when he scoffed the ridiculous tempter, saying, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:1-4, Luke 4:1-4). Trust God and his promises, than the half-truths of the tempter who deliberately misinterprets our experiences.

Desert Sunset
Watching the red sun bed down on a dune horizon from the top of another dune, the earworm inexplicably put Newsboy's The Orphan on repeat. The lyrics are mostly conjecture but the sentiment remains. How Moses must have, many years after Abraham, stood upon Mount Nebo after those hard tough years in the desert and looked upon the Promised Land, the end to his labour. And how, knowing that he was forbidden to enter because of his past faithlessness in God (Deuteronomy 34:1-8), he might have wept. If he did, he needn't have turned on the taps, what with all that water scarcity, because that Promised Land wasn't quite the ultimate promised land. It was a sort of mock-Tudor Surrey-style noveau-riche wannabe, yet God-instituted shadow of the real Promised Land still to come.

Constantly on the move, living out of a backpack for days in the Middle East, was to be reminded how we are stateless, rain dogs, gypsies, wandering Jews, longing for the real Promised Land, a place to settle down, a place to sink roots. All the places we sleep in in this life are not ours.

Like Mozart (because who can argue with all the hype that surrounds the chap), I have a great distaste for brass instruments. Their sound is so impure, they make a kleptocrat look like a boy scout. But there's a trumpet I live to hear: the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15 that will sound on that Last Day, the day when us weak perishable types, with all our petty rebelliousness against God and our half-struggles with sin, will, by God's mercy and grace through the blood of his son, be raised imperishable and immortal. Immortal because we will sin no more and will no longer deserve death that is the punishment for sin.

How nice it'll be to finally arrive at our real home, a place where we can finally fully unpack the backpack and chuck the passport away in the drawer, put on the kettle, tend the garden, and live in wonderful relationship with our Father forever.

But there is a bit tucked away at the end of 1 Corinthians 15:"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain." Knowing the real Promised Land and new bodies that await us, how can we give up hope now? And knowing that only our work in the Lord - the salvation of souls, will survive, how else shall we spend our time, energy and resources?

Well then, the friend said, shall we pray?

Yes, I said. Because the only way we can keep holding on the promises of God unmoved by the trials of this life and the only way we can keep doing God's work despite the pain in ministry is by dependence on God, through the power of God.

I Long For The Day
I long for the day when faith sees its goal,
When the things now unseen will be seen.
The day when my Saviour comes for his bride,
Whom his blood has washed spotlessly clean.
Whom his blood has washed spotlessly clean.

I long for the day when hope is fulfilled,
On which all of the saints will be raised.
The day all the nations kneel to the Lamb,
Giving him all their honour and praise.
Giving him all their honour and praise.

I long for the day when love will abound,
When the family of God will unite.
Our pain and our tears will have disappeared.
Freed at last from the trials of this life.
Freed at last from the trials of this life.
© 1997 Words by Bryson Smith. Music by Philip Percival.
Plainsong Music/Emu Music Australia Inc.

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At November 19, 2007 10:14 pm , Anonymous cupboard said...

love the colours...


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