Joshua Tree (Holy Weirdness)

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.

Holy weirdo Jordan Jones took advantage of a pause in his world exploring to meet me in Joshua Tree. With some gear he borrowed in Las Vegas, we headed off into the backcountry for a few days. Here, he takes Thaddeus for a test drive. Thanks to Jordan for contributing some of the photos in this blog post.

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.

While scampering up a hillside to catch the moonrise near our first camp, we came across this oddity: a landing gear. We decided to return the next day and investigate. We found a good deal of debris from a fairly recent accident, including glass, pieces of the plane's body, medical gear, carpet, a tattered Disabled Veterans' hat, dentures, and several other items.

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.

When we approached a distant canyon edge, we heard a rustling nearby. Turns out, it was a herd of bighorn sheep. After a moment of tranquil appreciation, I got a quick photo and a very short video. See below.

After parting ways with Jordan, I made my way to another part of the park that is littered with large, funky granite formations. I ended up sleeping in this little cave. You can get a broader view of the cave in the 7th photo of this post-- between the folded rock and the backlit yucca flower at night. In Japan, they have little sleeping capsoles for folks that need to sleep off an active night. This was the closest thing to a natural sleeping capsole-- just large enough for one person with gear. The wind howled all night, and the moon was very bright; I was glad for my accommodations.

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