A Mountain in the Desert

Not everyone has a mountain in their front yard, but they do.  

They live in a little Arizona valley where houses are built into cliffs, and remnants of mines and Indian dwellings and crumbling old Spanish churches exist as normally as if they were just a closed-up Dairy Queen on the side of a southern highway.

There's a mystery to the little town.  Dusty, small, old... and yet cradling rich supplies of copper and long-forgotten history in the cliffs. To imaginative outsiders just passing through, its irresistible. So one cool, rainy afternoon in the desert, we laced up and headed up that mountain outside their house.  There was even a small cave near the top where they promised I'd see some evidence of Native American life.

We didn't realize until we reached the top that none of us had brought a camera. I literally ached to take pictures of the way sun was breaking through the clouds, making the mist of the rain seem like a glistening fog around us, setting a sparkle on the usual dry brush. But I took it as a challenge: forge a memory without a camera.  Make it real enough to last without a picture to look back on.

I rallied my senses to the task.  I strained my muscles to climb unnecessary rock walls, to grip the crumbling rocks and feel the butterflies in my stomach.  I breathed the small-leafed bushes that smelled so much like rain, I tasted (and even sat on, by accident) a cactus. I lived in the moment...and then I made them promise we could come back - so I could take some dadgum real pictures.

When April and I returned days later, with my camera, the day was sunny and warm.  We made our way back to the cave and surveyed our position.  So high above everything else.  So tucked away and invisible in that little cave inside the mountain wall. And someone had lived there at one time.  Someone had carved bowls into the rock where they could grind their grains and layered the inner walls with the thick soot of their evening fires. Someone had probably rested at the mouth of the cave, leaned into the rock and looked out... surveyed the land, too.

It felt good to look so far.  My eyes, so accustomed to a glowing screen only a room's-length or arm's-length away, felt like they were using a new muscle to look so long into the distance - into nothing but a vast expanse of wild, empty land. Somehow, in moments like these, our soul feels very, very old, doesn't it?

And of course, in those moments, we feel somehow free to think and speak with clarity about the things that seem more cloudy on ground level.  

So, we did.

We talked about our heartaches, so familiar by now, so strangely easy to discuss casually like yesterday's news, while at the same time remembering all-too deeply the realness of it all.  We talked about the desert and how it sprawled out underneath us. How we feel like we've been walking through one.  How Jesus was led by the Spirit into one to be tempted. To be tested.  And then, to return from the wilderness in the power of the Spirit and begin his ministry.

Sitting on the edge of the rock, we overlooked the homes and the lives from a distance and talked of Jesus... on a mountain in the desert, with the devil by his side.  Jesus, freshly baptized, before the disciples and the sermons and the miracles, brought to a mountaintop to survey "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory."

Worship it, the devil had said.  Want it.  Love it.  Serve it.  Need it.

It could all be yours, he slithered in the ear of our Savior.

But Jesus... sweet Jesus.  He knew what Satan wanted from him.  He knew the dangling idol was but nothing but a whisper away from cursing God. Running to it would be running from the reason he'd come into the world. Embracing it would be rejecting the cross.

"Be gone, Satan!" Jesus, I hope, screamed right into the ugly, lying face of the devil. "I shall worship the Lord my God and him only shall I serve."

And the devil left him.  

And the glory of the world disappeared from within his grasp. 
And the angels came to nurse to him back to vitality.

And then he began his ministry, in the power of the Spirit.

It was in the desert that he was made weak and yet also in the desert that he was supernaturally strengthened.  It was on that dry, dusty mountain that he beheld all the world had to offer, a glittering carrot at the most opportune moment, and it was also on the mountain that he let world's glory pass and declared his unshakable allegiance to his Father.

"I shall worship the Lord my God and him only shall I serve."

The desert is a place where we are broken.  We are hungry, we are tested, we are so tempted to chase after the worldly things, the prettier things, the easier things... the lesser things.  But it is also in the desert where we take a stand.  Where we look the world right in the face, look the devil and all his lies right in the face, and say be gone.

I shall worship the Lord my God.  Him only shall I serve.

And the devil leaves. 

And the angels come.


  1. These are great thoughts about Jesus in the desert. Living in the desert, for me, has been a good experience. It's more real than just thinking of a time I felt like I was in the desert because of circumstances in my life. I didn't know at first how much I would dislike living here in Arizona until I went through a summer with some days reaching 115 degrees. I felt so constrained, limited, and plain HOT. I just wanted to complain all the time and wish for something else. Jesus had 40 miserable days in the desert which allowed him a lot of thinking. Satan played with his thoughts during that vulnerable time but Jeus resisted him. This summer I want to not let Satan be entertained with my complaining, or let him tempt me with the thought that where I am is not good enough. I know I can find beauty in the desert too, and if not, the real beauty is being in God's will.
    Good stuff.

  2. Love this! Thinking of Jesus in this light is so sweet and raw.


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