Up at Dawn in the Desert

“There’s something in the desert, in his emptiness, that makes you feel fully complete.”

These inspired words were those of Alexandre Alves. You do not know him but he is a humble, quiet, and compassionate teacher from the country of Portugal. During the day he pours over novels of loss and heartaches in times of history’s struggles, and at night he dreams of sitting atop his surf board, looking out over the glimmering ocean sea, in search of the IMG_1209perfect wave.

These words came to him as he peered across the vast desert landscape on a recent trip, of which I have spoken in detail this past week or so. “It just came to me!” he exclaimed, and it wasn’t hard to see why.

We awoke one morning before the sun had shown its face to find a cool jacket-worthy morning. Although we knew it would not stay so for long we relished the moment. Cold and desert weather were not a combination we had experienced in our first two months in Abu Dhabi. So with sweaters and jackets on we climbed out of the compound’s large wooden gates through a IMG_1220side door and trekked out into the grey morning sands of Arabia. It was not long until we found a spot worthy of a sunrise inspection.

Back in State College, I remembered staying up all night one weekend – err – “studying”, and at the end of the night, about 8 of us faithful students decided to go to the top of a parking garage and watch the sunrise. I remember it seeming like hours from when we first saw a glimmer of its glory on that crisp Autumn morning to when it fully dawned on Happy Valley.

In comparison, this desert morning, it was as if the sun had been shot out of a cannon into the oncoming armies of day. One moment it was dark and pale, and the next, the angelic glow was burning the chill off the world. But then suddenly, it was as if time stopped. The sun was at its most vibrant only inches from the horizon and it seemed to be just… floating. The remnants of night and sleep and dreariness seared out of my system instantly and I was alive. I peered out over the rolling dunes once again and saw forever.

IMG_1219It is not hard to be awakened in such endlessness. Some may find that such space and uniformity lulls you to sleep, but on the contrary, it enlivened my senses. As we looked out over the orange sunbeams hitting the dunes our lives became like the granules of sands… one of many.  And even in such anonymity and immensity, it still felt as though we were somehow experiencing something meaningful; whether in our hearts or in the whole of time, it was meaningful. As that sun rose over the distance and time seemed to stand still, our world became infinite and finite all at once. Lives began and lives ended, kingdoms rose and fell, the sand hills changed from one moment to the next, and life continued. But it was a life of meaning.

So, just as my prophetic Portuguese friend had foresaw, as I looked out over that dawning desert, my mind emptied and God was truly able to fill it with His presence. And that completion that enters our lives when we experience such “emptiness”, was and is truly fulfilling.