By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Following God often has a very nomadic quality to it.
Indeed, often the question we find ourselves pondering in our hearts and in our prayers is not Where do you want me to be but rather Where do you want me to go?
The entire narrative arc of the scriptures seems to be one in motion. Creation begins, so to speak, as nothingness, a void of being locked in its static non-becoming. But God who is eternal is completely other than this- is what it is not. The trinitarian communion of love- the endless and perpetual movement of self-giving- underlies the superabundance and overflowing nature of God. From the perfect freedom of this dynamis God brings creation into being, flinging forth the fabric of our reality into motion.
Even humanity crafted from dust and to dust to return is not planted with feet fastened to the ground; the first steps into existence are not meant to be the last. From a garden of birth to a garden of death to a garden without end, the path laid before winds and weaves in the seeming erratic-ies of the Spirit’s voice, whether in fire and cloud or whispers and tongues.
God often finds us in the city and leads us to the desert. Abraham was found and told to go somewhere he had never been. The security of his land and his family and his people would need be cast aside for the call to the wilderness, to find God and his promise in the great unknown. And sometimes the surety lies even further beyond, past the pall of death through which ordinary eyes cannot see.
Perhaps it’s the aridness of the desert that gives faith its sight. In the inescapable light of the noonday sun all is laid bare, where dreams and hopes, doubts and fears coalesce into a single point, vanishing into a horizon that rushes forth into eternity.
Perhaps in the quiet and the stillness the God of the wilderness can best be heard. A townhouse has noisy neighbors, but a tent is merely fabric between the ears and the Almighty. The shout of God can break apart mountains, but only his whisper can demolish the hardest heart.
The desert is a place to wander, but it is also a place to be led. Forty years may be a long time to be lost, but it’s also a long time to be found. There are no guarantees, but only the opportunity to follow, every moment a choice of which direction your feet will point. Temptation grabs at the soul, but the Spirit is even closer. A will as impenetrable as ice might only melt in the heat, its intransigence doubled down until it fades into nothingness.
Living in tents reminds us that a country yet unreached is truly our home. After all, even God in the flesh had no place to lay his head. Instead the lonely places are where the Son and the Father met. The transfiguration merely pulls back the veil a bit- prayer is meant to have this overwhelming brilliance as a matter of course.
A heart too comfortable in this world is meant to be a sign that something is wrong- it just so happens that homesickness is not a disease, and deserts and mountains and caves and holes are merely a stop along the way.
Clearly tents aren’t meant to be have a forwarding address.
It seems the monks who escaped to the desert may not have been forsaking the world, but chasing after another. The heat can play tricks on your eyes, but perhaps the city has its own illusions. A wasteland may best befit a soul that longs for purity.
In the end a faith that is obvious is no faith at all. Living in tents means you don’t know what’s coming or where you are going. But that’s the moment when you are found by God, and a promise that passes beyond your sight becomes the surest and most vibrant of all.