Living with less

We’ve just concluded an invigorating BibleSettings Summer Israel Study Trip with some new friends now made mostly from Arizona in the USA. As much I give out during these trips, it’s not all giving out for me. I get to learn much from folks in all walks of life as they “read” the biblical world through the lenses of their environments back home. Never a trip here without some surprises…even for someone who has been doing this for nearly thirty years!

The new look this summer comes from folks who really “get” the desert. After all, life in the US southwest is all about making the most of less…less good soil, less climatic interruptions, and most of all, less water. That said, it came as a surprise to me that these people from the Arizona desert found something here in the eastern and southern deserts of Israel, where in the summer, one gets a full dose. The biblical peoples thought of their desert as “the land of milk,” as in the Land of Milk [and Honey]. Milk reminds one that in an environment devoid of rain, ground water, and significant agriculture, goats and their milk are essential for life. The goat in such an environment provides hair for tents and also furnishes meat, if necessary, in addition to the dairy, which sustains the desert people from day to day. Not much to live on, is it. But life in the deserts of the middle east is as attracting as it is challenging, as inviting as it is repelling. With considerable accommodations from civilization in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, this haunting lesson may have previously eluded our recent guests.

I have come to believe that the attraction of the desert here is that it offers a life with less. As confusing as this may sound, the desert has a way of straightening us out by accentuating the contrast to how little we really need to live. With little available, our desires and longings are turned away from resources toward others. Our senses are heightened to the fact that authentic life truly is located in the relationships around us, in the people with whom we live and in the God whose voice we hear more clearly. Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Paul, and the desert fathers among others discovered this truth before us. It is hard to miss here.

Oddly enough though, what attracts us about the desert is exactly what repels us: a life with less. The desert presents us with a life of risk and apparent danger. Throughout history, many have lost their way on this rock-strewn, eroded landscape. Its foreboding emptiness and impassible canyons warn us away, encouraging a safer and easier place to spend our lives. In the end, maybe it is in this delicate balance that the lesson of the desert, of living with less, is learned. The desert attracts us, teaches us, makes us wise. And then while pushing us away back into the “real world,” a haunting memory lingers of life lived more authentically, with a strength to resist the seduction of the visible. Maybe in part, this is why so many who come on our trips looking for knowledge, find along with it another valuable dividend: Faith.

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