The Clarity of the Desert

I went on a glorious hike in the desert last week. It was particularly wonderful to have gone from the frozen tundra of Minnesota into temperatures worthy of wearing a tank top. It's easy to take the warmth of the sun for granted until it is gone for several months.

Desert landscapes fascinate me. The cacti and flowers, rocks and dirt, all look so different than the flora and ground of the north. My eyes darted from place to place as I walked around the mountain, noticing the distinct beauty of that part of the country.

I couldn't help but notice something else was different to. Not on the ground, but in the sky.  

The sky was a deeper shade of blue in the desert. 


Why is the sky blue? 

It turns out the answer to this oft asked question of children is "because of the air molecules."

Light comes to earth from the sun in a full spectrum of colors. But on its way down, it hits air molecules. Many colors of light make their way through, their wavelengths unaffected by the interference. But light on the blue end of the spectrum is affected; it bounces off the air molecules and fills our sky with its hue.

Unless the air is filled with aerosols. Aerosols are particles of dust, salt, pollution, or water that are also floating in the air. They interfere with the full spectrum of light, bouncing all the colors around, making the sky appear less blue to our eyes. 

The desert sky has an unusual clarity. It is dry, so water aerosols are absent. It is away from the ocean, so salt aerosols are absent. It is away from human populations, so pollution aerosols are absent. And besides the occasional dust storm, the dirt pretty much stays on the ground. 

In the desert, the air molecules are free to bounce blue light without interference, and bring an unusual depth of cobalt clarity before our eyes.


When we use deserts as a metaphor in our spiritual lives, we often use it to describe times that feel like punishment. Deserts are places where we feel parched, where sustenance is hard to come by, and where familiar land feels far away.

The problem with that view of deserts is it only looks at the dry, cracked ground. When we are in the desert, we need to look up.

In the desert, away from interference, God's light can shine through with unmatched clarity and depth. We can begin to see the world in new ways, and carry a vision into the future that we would not have seen if we hadn't passed through the wilderness.

In Hebrew, the word for wilderness, or desert, is "midbar," which comes from the root, "dabar." Dabar means "to speak." 

It's true the desert is a difficult place, but it is also a place in which God speaks.  


In many ways, the last few months have been a desert journey for me. I had felt called to leave my job at the end of December, but did not yet know what I was supposed to do next. Though there were some wonderful days, and some ordinary moments, there were also many hours spent processing, flailing, wandering, and grieving.

It was hard, but it was also good.  

In the desert, my vision changed. I saw a path I don't think I would have seen if I did not journey through the desert on my way to it. 

I am venturing out as an independent teacher, leading others to experience the richness that is possible when a small community of people gather around the Scriptures and leave space for the Spirit of God to speak. It is a way of teaching that is guiding more than speaking, questioning more than telling, and relational more than directional. It is a beautiful way forward full of potential, but also full of unknowns.

In the desert, I have learned that unknowns are okay. The cracked ground and blue sky live side-by-side, God bringing light and life in the midst of both.

In the desert, don't just look down at the dry cracked ground, remember to look up at the deep blue sky.


If you are local to the Minneapolis area, would you consider joining me for my next study? I am also available to journey to you for retreats or small groups if you are interested. In either case, I would love your prayers, mainly that I would keep trusting God and taking the next step, even if I don't know exactly where the path is leading.