12 May, 2012
Joshua Tree National Park is an other-worldly land. The name calls to mind a string of oddities ranging from a U2 record and Gram Parsons’ partial cremation to vegetation that is most often compared to cartoonish artistry of Dr. Seuss. The peculiarity and austerity of life in this dry land conjures a flood of creativity that forces the visitor to reconsider what is possible on this planet. With granite balloons and manikin shrub trees still glowing in my retinae, I bellow: God bless the weird!
In its curiosities and unique beauty, Joshua Tree embodies an experience with the Other. Like travel or education, experiences with the other can energize us. When meeting the Other, we are invariably faced with the unknown and somehow new. Along with that newness, inexperience is also intimidating. In the cases of deserts and wilderness, that intimidation requires respect and attentiveness.
It is unsettling to consider how we have made our experiences with nature so exceptionally Other. In the interest of preservation, we set aside wilderness. Along with it, we set aside what we think of as nature. In this act, we deceive ourselves. We pretend that we are separate from nature—as if we could survive without water or food; as if water and food were also separate from nature; as if our actions could never exhaust nature. We have developed incredible techniques for minimizing the dangers associated with food and water. However, they will always be part of greater systems of biotic and abiotic processes interacting constantly.
While there is great danger in separating ourselves from nature, there is great value in preserving wilderness as set aside from the grip of humanity. Like cathedrals, temples, museums, and theaters, we need somewhere to remove ourselves from daily life, recover our fragility, and encounter the depths of being. We need to dig our hands in the soil and feel how our roots are embedded in the divine. That doesn’t happen everywhere or anytime. We occasionally glimpse that ever-present light around our busy feet, but the business takes precedence over beauty.
We overdress life. We place heavy shawls of activity, close-fitting cloth of expectation, and packs of emotional baggage over being’s untamed body. Occasionally, we go where those garments cannot come. We step back to the essential nakedness of life. This happens in wilderness. It happens in relationships. It happens in transitions, challenges, and poverty–both economic and spiritual. But the awareness requires naked simplicity. We have to put down all we’ve accumulated. Sometimes, it’s involuntary. It is always scary. But just beyond our fear of the unknown, untamed, and indescribable, the holy weirdness tickles our naked feet.
It’s easy to take that weirdness for granted when we talk about it enough. We’ve all heard of the lion lying down with the lamb, camels passing through the eyes of needles, weapons reshaped as tools, the blessed poor, the first becoming last, and the resurrection of the dead. Can we recall the weirdness? Those who seek justice, those who seek innovation– go there. Step out into the desert of the kingdom’s already-not-yet.
As we turn a blind eye to the changes we are causing on our planet and the bold participation with divine love into which we are called, we need the holy weirdness. We need to think like we’ve never thought before and as we’ve forgotten we once dreamed. We need the eternal newness of innovation to re-envision life in the face of climate change. The planet now is as it never has been before. The potential for human suffering alongside massive biodiversity loss is staggering. Fear taps the shoulder opposite our gaze. Elsewhere, the Joshua trees remind us that the inconceivable is possible.
Until we meet again
More tickled by holy weirdness
Than we thought possible