January 21, 2021

Another Look: The Wilderness Within


They cannot scare me with their empty places
Between stars — on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

• Robert Frost, “Desert Places”

• • •

One temptation is to think the wilderness is without — a place, a geography, a circumstance. I’m in the wilderness, I say, and immediately I find myself off course. Yes, the place under my feet may be a desert and barren all around. But more likely, even though it is there, I cannot see its fruit or the means it offers for my survival. It may well be that I can flourish in almost any setting. Only the aquifer must be found and I must sink a sturdy pipe through hard dry soil to reach it. That I struggle to do so consistently is the scary part and what makes me view the wilderness as the enemy. It demands from me more than I seem to be able to summons. The barren place without reveals my impotence and lack of creative imagination within.

Therefore, more often than not, I take an easier way made possible by this age of miracles. I go into debt to buy overpriced, mediocre quality groceries. I put the cost of a vacation at the nearest oasis on my credit card, and there I read brochures extolling greener pastures. I fall asleep, drunk on dreams. Then two weeks later I awaken and open my front door, and here I am again in the midst of a trackless wasteland. I squint against the blowing dust that slaps my face and feel myself beginning to sweat. The midday demon slowly chokes the breath out of me. I survive the afternoon, parched and overwhelmed with futility. I twist and turn in perspiration-soaked sheets through the night, both longing for and dreading the morning.

Not in a million years would I have thought, in these days, that my main vocation would be searching for water.


  1. Robert F says

    Never having gone
    to the desert, I’ve known it
    from the inside out…

  2. Burro [Mule] says

    And yet, the desert, the wilderness, the wasteland (die Wüste) is the place to encounter YHWH. Even the Son of God did so.

  3. Rick Ro. says

    Wilderness within,
    Where o where is your water.
    I hear footsteps near.

  4. Rick Ro. says

    Desert of my soul
    Empty, barren…but I see
    a cross in its sand.

  5. Burro [Mule] says

    And the desert within, if not healed, creates a wasteland without.

    Today is the centenary of the first day of the Battle of The Somme, into which five million men were thrown like so much meat into a grinder. Their cries no longer echo in living memory, but the tears are still rising behind my eyelids.

    So, soon they topped the hill, and raced together
    Over an open stretch of herb and heather
    Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned
    With fury against them; and soft sudden cups
    Opened in thousands for their blood; and the green slopes
    Chasmed and steepened sheer to infinite space.

    • Danielle says

      I’m reminded on this day of what my British friend wrote a year or two ago:

      “Every year on this day I think of my granddad and how he lost brother after brother in WW1 until all were gone.”

      An early chapter in a very long century.

  6. Heather Angus says

    The Fury of Aerial Bombardment

    You would think the fury of aerial bombardment
    Would rouse God to relent; the infinite spaces
    Are still silent. He looks on shock-pried faces.
    History, even, does not know what is meant.

    You would feel that after so many centuries
    God would give man to repent; yet he can kill
    As Cain could, but with multitudinous will,
    No farther advanced than in his ancient furies

    Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?
    Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?
    Is the eternal truth man’s fighting soul
    Wherein the Beast ravens in its own avidity?

    Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill,
    Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall
    But they are gone to early death, who late in school
    Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding pawl.

    By a British teacher, Richard Eberhart, about the loss of his students in WWII. 30 years after “the war to end all wars.”

    “Is the eternal truth man’s fighting soul?” Looks like it.

    • Heather Angus says

      No, I don’t want to end that cynically. I try to look every day, all the time, for the blossom in the desert, and I find it, after a horrific catastrophe, in the rescuers, the healers, the helpers. So too, with my “own desert places,” I try to provide a little oasis by doing something kind or helpful for someone who needs it.

      A counselor friend once told me, “If you can get to the end of life without becoming bitter, you’re a success.” Some days it’s harder than others, but I feel it’s worth it to keep on trying.

      • Rick Ro. says

        –> “If you can get to the end of life without becoming bitter, you’re a success.”

        Awesome wisdom. Yep, our walk with Christ seems mainly to be about bearing good fruit. I fail miserably at it, but he knows I try most of the time. And His grace is sufficient. Praise Him.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Gut-wrenching. That’s a dang good poem. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Paul Russell says

    “Earnestly I seek you in a dry and weary place where there is no water” from Psalm 63. My daily meditation (nightly too). Nice post. Thanks

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