Updated: Apr 30, 2022
Climbing in the heat of the Judean Wilderness, I entered Ein Gedi; the desert oasis where David sought refuge during exile. Forced into absence by king Saul; a man burning with an unflinching need for control, David is exiled, into a harsh wilderness where he, too, wanders.
Ein Gedi sits quietly amid the parched, insatiable wastelands of the Rift Valley, opposite Jordan. It is the lowest point beneath sea level on the face of the Earth. Salt has been baked upon great, primordial rock faces left standing, like sentinels, over this desolate valley. They are a reminder of a once-great beauty, long since dried up.
The nearby sea isn't a mirage, but it is an illusion. Standing out from the coarse red sand like larimar, it promises respite, but that is not what it delivers. Thick and saline, the water slips, oleaginous, right through your hands. And if you dive down deep, you are forced right back up; unable to explore the depths of the Past.
The Dead Sea, as it is aptly named, is an endorheic basin; a salt waste. It is perhaps the most hopeless place I have ever seen. It stings your eyes and senses. You gasp as you emerge, thankful for the dry, hot air; preferring anything to the beautiful assault of the water, which pulls you down, whilst holding you up.
No one swims - everyone who goes down to its inviting shore just floats, like the dead.
In contrast, the green jewel of Ein Gedi, though not prominent, is a quiet, hidden place; lush and green. A welcome break from the surrounding devastation.
Seven waterfalls of clean freshwater cascade from an ancient, unseen aquifer. I climb each of the falls, to the top. Looking up, the water shoots outward, without origin. A verse comes to mind: "I lift my eyes to the mountains; where does my help come from?" Truly. Out of utter desolation, even despair, there is a cascade of such beauty and goodness, it is beyond reason, but not beyond belief. Finding myself alone at the pool, I take off my clothes and submerge myself honestly, completely.
Everything quiets. I can feel my heart pounding from the rocky climb. Even that is muted by thundering water from the pool above.
Memories of my time wandering Israel race through my head: running over the rooftops of Jerusalem at sunset, spending a night alone at the Garden Tomb beside Golgotha, walking through the river corridors of Hezekiah's Tunnel, or climbing a rope into the upper burial chamber at Yad Avshalom (and startling a group of tourists far below, who never expected to see a living man step out of a high and ancient tomb). In all this journeying, I asked many questions to God. Most of them had gone unanswered. But there, in that small pool, out of nowhere, came a prayer I have carried far into the wilderness:
Rid me of myself. The choices, thoughts and actions that take from others, rather than imbue to them the best of all I am. Let this be the legacy I build; brick by simple brick. Guide my hand to give, unseen. Guide my mind to happier thoughts, and my arms to a lighter harness. Guide my soul to that music which is not my own, and let me play it just for You. For the important things we pray are felt, rarely understood, and more difficult to express. Sometimes a quiet place in the wilderness, a place of exile, is exactly what we need ...
"I will captivate her heart, and draw her into the wilderness ... to speak kindly to her"
Let the beautiful qualities be good works done quietly; kindness sought, though perhaps never imagined, until now. In quietude, may I find some way to make your life easier, more joyful. If that means my absence, let me be gone. If in my prayers, then to pray without ceasing. If in many years still far from now, then let me look on that distant horizon and, seeing storms, sail faster to them, unable to discourage the broad smile on my face!
Let me dare to be different, so that what is beautiful may become brave, and revel in its uniqueness; cultivated, where it was never noticed. Hoped in, but not expected. Loved, but not demanded. Prayed for, even if those prayers are unknown. Let my courage be quiet, and my sadness brief. Help me to have the Will to stare down at my firmly clenched hands, and release each finger in surrender to all that is beyond my grasp. Let me love the Good for what it is, not for what it may bring.
And let me look to the greatness of simple things, and be thankful.
Let me give without their knowledge, only Yours. To know you breathe a little lighter, laugh a little longer, and if at my expense - then laugh! That is a burden I am happy to bear.
Let me bear it well.
Let my voice be different, with all my intention; the impact of the thought before, and feeling long after; a desire to unstitch the wrongs sewn up, over open cuts, never actually healed, but cleverly disguised. Make my hands clean, strong, kind.
Emerging from the water, from death into life, I breathe: reborn. The water does not sting my eyes, but refreshes them and I see clearly. There is no salt here, and I breathe deeply, slowly, truly.
The song of David comes back; an answered prayer, carried along the breeze:
"Create in me a clean heart, O God
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence,
And keep not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the JOY of my Salvation!
But renew a steadfast spirit within me."
- Psalm 51