From the Desert’s Edge

14 May, 2012


The Motel 29 Palms turns silent in the heat of the day. The kitschy sign that welcomes visitors from the eastern Mojave with a pert glow seems worn and humbled in the unbridled sun. Two curious roadrunners that stroll the grounds at dusk and dawn have retreated to somewhere likely shadier than the parking lot’s open oven. The motel’s denizens—mostly temporary laborers and tourists headed to or from Joshua Tree—have evaporated, which leaves me to some quality time with the desert heat and the world wide web.

It’s been a long journey since last we connected, Carbon Sabbath crew! Thaddeus has rolled through high desert snows, past ancient Native American civilizations, along the rim of the Grand Canyon, and down dead highways to the edge of the Mojave. The journey was not burdened by ease. Nor was it free of beauty. The overall experience was a treasure whose immediately apparent value will surely accrue in the years to come.

In the wake of my desert time and this year of abnormal living, I am feeling fairly unsettled. At several points in this trip, I pined for my home state. If a song like Wilco’s “California Stars” popped in my head, I would sing it heartily and hopefully. Now that I’ve reached California, I can’t quite accept it. When Odysseus finally sets foot on Ithaca after years of wandering, war, and hardship, he doesn’t recognize it. His view is impeded by a fog both literal and figurative. I can relate. It’s hard to believe that I am in my homeland. In the distance, I can see valleys I know and mountains I have climbed. I’ve driven the roads I now ride, and I have childhood memories that meander this very desert. But I am not yet home.

Home is a tough thing to define. It runs the gamut from sights and smells to relationships and feelings. Many folks I know are inspired by the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, which claims, “Home is whenever I’m with you.” This adds to the complexity of the concept with both a relational and a temporal quality to our sense of home. From a theological perspective, I believe that our longing for home is anchored in our longing for the divine. We get samples of that divine connection in our sense of home, our relationships, and in all that inspires us.

While it suits our postmodern tastes to divorce our longing for home from physical space, it can be misleading to think of home as purely conceptual. Most of us have left our childhood homes at some point in our lives, which is a necessary step in our development and education. We all know what it means to be apart from home physically. Many folks reading this blog have no physical place that they consider home that is not subject to changes in career, relationships or other high priorities. We live transient lives relative to most of human history. That transience separates us from particular physical places to varying degrees.

As part of our detachment from a physical home, it is hard for us to understand the ways in which the physical world around us is changing. Throughout the course of this trip, when I speak with people that have been connected to one piece of land for the majority of their lives—be they farmers, small town business owners, Native Americans, etc.—they easily acknowledge the changes we associate with climate. They know that their home is changing, and they can tell you about it. But most of us are not so connected to the land we inhabit or work. Most of us struggle for a sense of home while oblivious to the changes in the planet that is our physical home. Some might dismiss the notion of earth as our home, but it seems difficult to take such a stance given that we live, eat, breathe, give birth, and die as part of this planet. Jesus’ incarnation affirms that connection and reminds us the importance of living in such a manner as to be present and loving in all that we do. As the condition of the planet changes, our ability to live on the planet and our love of and neighbor will become more noticeably entwined. Home is changing for all of us.

This brazen roadrunner was ready to come right in a Greek restaurant in 29 Palms. For those of you who have never seen these creatures outside of cartoons, the picture below might give you a better sense of their body shape, etc.

Over the past year, I have been blessed by friendships, safety, bucolic wonders, inspiring dialogue, and classic adventures. Surely, those experiences and relationships will nourish me for the rest of my life. For now, I am still in what some would call a liminal space: I am neither a part of normal society nor entirely separated from it. It’s an unsettling position, but that can be good. When we are unsettled or removed from comfort, we can gain strength and perspective that can benefit ourselves and others. I find it both funny and sad that something as simple as not riding in cars or planes can be so profoundly unsettling—more so than years of traveling, playing music, or moving in pursuit of education and work. Still, I welcome the time that remains as I turn to all senses of home.

Until we meet again

More attentive to our home in the present

Than we thought possible