Creatures of Longing

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Desert sky, dream beneath a desert sky
The rivers run but soon run dry, we need new dreams tonight.
—U2

This past weekend, I went backpacking for the very first time in Joshua Tree National Park. I can honestly say that I have never felt a more authentic oneness with nature than what I experienced in the desert. Listening to U2’s Joshua Tree album before the trip only partially prepared me for the great spiritual connection I felt there. 

Our small group of 13 that I backpacked with all became best friends by the end of the trip. We watched a desert sunrise together, slept under a bright—and cold—carpet of stars, had meaningful conversations, and bonded over our frozen toes. All in all, I came out alive with blisters and a fresh heart.

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~morning sunrise~ there was a nice layer of frost on our sleeping bags when we woke up

I think Joshua Tree is one of my new favorite places. I have many favorite places, but there is something so surreal and homey about the desert—a rustic, comfortable beauty that is exclusive to the cacti and sand. It is a place that allows the soul to breathe and extend itself. The grand pines and forests of the Rocky Mountains are breathtaking and royal and have a special place in my heart, but the open, authentic plainness of Joshua Tree felt special and relatable to me. 

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On the drive back home from the trip, our caravan stopped at a funky, middle-of-nowhere shop called Cactus Mart. It was in the small town of Morongo Valley—a place of chipped paint and rusted souls. Cactus Mart was cluttered with pots of cacti, succulents, and garden art. I picked up on the southwestern vibe and smiled at the chickens running loose among the prickly plants. While I didn’t dig my own 59 cent cactus to take home, I did buy a small packet of Joshua Tree seeds to commemorate the trip. On the back of the seed packet, it explains how Joshua Trees got their name from early Mormon settlers who thought the trees resembled the hands of Joshua from the Bible reaching toward heaven. That whole idea of reaching and longing has been on my mind since leaving Joshua Tree. I definitely felt a warm restlessness in the air among the trees, a constant unrest my soul understands. A restlessness I’ve grown to know and love. It made so much sense to me that Joshua Trees are defined by this characteristic of longing.

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desert sunset

Like the trees, my hands are aching from all their reaching. Do you see us Lord? Do you see our thousands of wretched hands reaching for you? In this beautiful, twisted place, my soul is allowed to reach and long. I am a reacher, a reacher reaching for that eternal blue. Right now I am sitting on my own rock, looking at all these hands reaching for you Lord. A cool, sweet breeze tickling my dusty, sunscreen-oily skin. My hair in a tangled braid. I feel like me. Always a little confused and stressed and lost and stubbornly hopeful, but like me.

Oh God, do you see us? The trees say. We long for you. We thirst, we hurt. But we are us, and we’re okay with always longing.

There is not a cell in my body that does not long like these trees. Maybe that’s why this place is home to human souls, because we long and thirst and never stop. Let’s never stop longing for eternity. For if we do, we become lifeless and forget about justice, understanding, love— we forget ourselves.

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I stretch out my hands to you, my soul to you like a parched land. —Psalm 143:6

Oh Lord, if I ever stop longing, send a storm. Let me never become complacent with blue skies. Let me never stop craving sunshine. Thank you for this little wake-up call. Keep my heart restless and aching.

I am a creature of intense longing and thirst. Let my soul never forget that the Joshua Trees are really just like me. I am these hands. I am crying out like Joshua, I am praying with my dried up roots. I need you God. I long for you. My hands are dirty and dusty and holy. I know that I’m twisted and hurt. I am not so beautiful all the time. But the trees have taught me something about what it means to live in my uniqueness and thrive there. And for that, I am thankful.

My spirit—let it be unleashed here and free to attach itself to a longing, gnarly tree. My feet are throbbing and my back is knotted but my soul is awakened and breathing and stirring. Let me write and understand and have spiritual connections like this everywhere I go. Keep me open and vulnerable and willing to go places I’m afraid of going. Thank you for everything about this place Lord.

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So many
and so leggy and all of them rising as if
attempting to escape this world which, don’t
they know it, can’t be done. “Are you
trying to fly or what?” I ask, and they
answer back, “We are what we are, you
are what you are, love us if you can.”

—M.O.

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the crew

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Cactus Mart
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cacti galore

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I want to reach out 

and touch the flame

where the streets have no name.

—U2


2 thoughts on “Creatures of Longing

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