Friday, June 02, 2006

This Desert Oasis And A Still Small Voice

My wife and I are taking a two-day midweek break, as I need to be in Palm Desert for an educational seminar for my work. We are staying at a very nice hotel, and spent the last two nights eating at local restaurants, surrounded by well-heeled and very well tanned desert dwellers. This is a very upscale area, featuring mile after mile of luxury desert homes surrounding lush golf courses, hidden canyon estates surrounded by palm trees, and high-end retail developments. If you sink a well down here about 100 feet, water literally bubbles up out of the ground. It's a desert oasis of sorts. There is also a great deal of very interesting 1950s and 1960s residential architecture. There is even one wealthy family who has their own 18 hole course on a massive estate.

I think something strange is happening to me in my middle age. I actually like it here now. Yesterday it was about 105 degrees, and I did not mind. I tend to travel out this way (about 70 miles from my home) about twice a year for work, and have been doing so for a number of years. My grandparents even had a house out here, and I visited often when I was a wee baby. But as long as I can remember, I never liked this area, and thought that people who lived out here in the heat were mental. It's a desert, it's full of old people, and gosh, its hot! Yuck. But now, for me, yuck no longer.

What is going on with me? Why do I strangely enjoy this place now? I have been pondering this over the past day or so. I have some thoughts. First, I am almost 48 years old, and maybe my "personal demographic" is changing. After all, the entire Coachella Valley is geared to the over 50 crowd. Egads, I am aging!

Second, I think that I am being subtly lured by the lifestyle here. Last night, I spend time on the web looking at this place - Bighorn. I will never live there, but it feels very enticing, alluring, intoxicating. Ahh, a lovely home, with a desert view, set by a golf course. Sitting by the pool, sipping something cool, and gazing at the desert mountains in a warm twilight. When I was younger, I used to play golf all the time. I love golf, but have no time at this season in my life to play. This would be a nice life.

But there is this Voice, and it won't go away. Its not very loud, but its there, and it is persistent. Relentless. As my wife and I had a great Mexican meal Wednesday night, as I sipped on a nearly atomic margarita, and watched the tanned affluent of Palm Springs arrive for dinner, I kept hearing this little Voice (even through the margarita fog). The Voice was there by the pool yesterday too. It's a still, small Voice, and it won't shut up. Sometimes, in my weakness, I wish it would.

When I see the tanned, seemingly happy people drinking, and dining, and laughing, the Voice reminds me that real happiness, real peace, real joy come from an entirely different place; only from knowing and trying to follow in the way of one solitary life of a man from Nazareth who walked around Israel more than 2,000 years ago. He made sick people well, helped the troubled find lasting peace, and afflicted the comfortable - like me.

When I look at the luxury homes at Bighorn and begin to covet a life like that, the Voice reminds me that treasures stored up here on earth really don't amount to anything. All possessions are fleeting. Only a life immersed in grace and hope and divine love can bring depth of meaning; an abundant life. A life like we can barely imagine, and often do not understand.

When I enjoy the luxury and comfort of the soft hotel bed, the Voice reminds me of countless thousands, nay, millions who sleep each night, under the same stars on bare dirt ground, in small wooden or cardboard shacks, or who lay in substandard hospitals without proper medical care. It reminds me of children dying of AIDS. They all are lonely, and feel lost, and have little hope. Why am I here, and they are there? I have no idea. But the Voice keeps on reminding me. I am here, and they, them, "those people" are over there and, yet, we are strangely connected. The Voice created us both, and I have an obligation to them. The Voice won't stop, like a shadow companion.

I think Christian song writer Bob Bennett best express what I am thinking:

A voice, crying in the wilderness
A still, small voice, loud and clear
And a voice, still ringing in my ear
Saying, follow me, follow me, and I will show you my Father

I struggle with this Voice all the time. I need to shut up, and listen more. But I love the God who speaks it, and I want to follow Him, feeble though my attempts may be. I pray that I can continue doing so, one day at a time.

We are leaving this desert. Sadly, but strangely, and even joyously, its not for us.
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