When people ask me how long I lived in the Sonoran desert I usually respond in terms of summers, not years. “I survived 6 summers!” I boastfully reply, as if they should be impressed with my cunning, woman vs. nature survivor skills. (Yeah…right…).
As I continue to ponder the spiritual lessons that the desert taught me, it may be no surprise that with the extreme climate the desert can bring that I would think of “shelter” as a spiritual necessity.
The Southwest sun can be brutal much of the year. Last May 2012, Tucson had two hikers die from the heat within a 48 hour period, one from Germany (age 35), the other from the Midwest (age 23). And let us not forget the countless migrants whose lives are claimed each year from heat related deaths. Taking shelter from the heat and understanding the dire importance of drinking lots of water is crucial in surviving in the desert.
My urban shelter came in many different forms. I discovered that using a UVA/UVB umbrella while walking reduced the harshness of the sun. It felt womb-like each time I entered my car after its windows were finally tinted. And I rejoiced every time I could sit or park in the shadow of a Mesquite or Palo Verde tree. They may not compare to the grandeur of a Maple or an Ash, but even the slightest bit of shade for me was a welcomed blessing.
And what might spiritual shelter look like?
This is often what I attempt to discover when I first meet a hospice patient and his or her family/caregivers. How have they coped in the past when things turned foul in life? When circumstances intensify, from where or whom do they seek shelter?
Here are some of the things that spiritually shelter me:
- Scripture or even profound quotes often buffer me from life’s hardships. I will never forget coming across an inspirational Ojibwe saying on the BART train, of all places, that shifted my self-deprecating mood. “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky.” Like stepping under the cool shade of that Palo Verde, I was instantly comforted. The intensity of my life had lost a bit of it’s heat. For your own spiritual shelter, have a few memorized scriptures and/or quotes to draw upon or have at a glance for those moments of need.
- Having several confidants—whether a friend or a professional—with whom I can share my heartaches, frustrations, and worries protects me from holding things in and letting them fester (Which is always bad for the soul!). There have been several core people in my life who have rescued me through the years with their gifts of presence and listening. (And I thank you.) Seek out and keep close in your life those who truly care about your well being.
- A spiritual discipline is an essential shelter. A spiritual discipline might be reading sacred scripture like the Bible, praying, doing yoga, or meditating. It could be that gardening or hiking reconnects you to the beautiful world around and gives you a fresh perspective on life. What matters most is that the discipline allows for or leads to personal reflection. For me, I find journaling to be very effective at leading me to examine my life, to notice my connection—or lack there of—with God, and to see my spiritual growth. But know this. This is the kind of shelter you don’t want to get too run down. Maintain it! Create time each day, or at least each week, to practice your discipline.
My environment is so very different these days living in the Pacific Northwest. But I will always be grateful for the things I learned on my desert sojourn. May your own journey provide you with valuable, spiritual insights.
And feel free to share them here at Desert Sojourn!