Cristy Marchis shares her story of Lent, wandering in the wilderness, and discovering beauty.
As Lent approached this year, I did not need to try to find my way to the desert. The desert came to me in a blinding sandstorm, drying up so many streams of plans and dreams and expectations. I was parched, barren, surrounded by stones and thorns, vulnerable to heat and cold, no protection in sight. I did not want the familiar comforts: the desert was my new home.
Wandering through this wilderness, I discovered a strange beauty. The botany of this badland did not hold answers, but instead a gravid, weighty wonder: pencil trees, fire sticks, Shrek’s ears, African Milk Tree, Prickly Pear, and the truly bizarre Lithops, commonly called cactus stone, appearing to be both dead and alive at once. And not to be missed, the stately aloe vera. When I was a child, my mother soothed every scratch and burn with its gooey, yellow healing juices. Did the familiar aloe vera truly have its restorative place in this alien land? At the very least, it deserved a chance.
I’ve always kept a pot of aloe vera to remind me of nature’s — and my mother’s — healing presence. So I brought out the neglected, overgrown pot of aloe vera from my kitchen window. So many tiny new plants that they were almost suffocating each other. Carefully, each was tucked into its own pot, and lined the aisles in our nave. Healing power present, but dormant beneath the thin, striated, barbed skins. Now the desert offered a new possibility. Hope? Not yet. But then came words from Deacon Rob’s sermon: “How can I allow love to grow in the space created by death.” Love? The desert loomed before us as a wasteland. But a simple question vibrated in my mind as Lent stretched onward: What else is possible?
Finally, Holy Week arrived. I held the solid white Easter Candle in my hands. What now? So large, heavy luminous. Front and center in our liturgical worship. Not a small symbol: Not a small task. God be present in this fragile emptiness, please.
From my heart, a simple prayer, a sacred request:
O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church
(from the Exsultet)
What else is possible? Nourishment. Water, not to wash away the desert, but to sustain it. Jesus once said, “whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38).
Perhaps the water that brings life to the desert is within us already. Just as it lies beneath the delicate membrane of the aloe vera plant, perhaps it is within each of us waiting to soothe our aches and burns together. What else is possible? Healing.
What else is possible? Beauty. When life giving waters flow through the desert, unexpected beauty explodes. Kalanchoe, Bromeliad, African Violet, Moon Cactus, Crown of Thorns with its delicate red flowers protected by hidden thorns, and finally Hoya Kerrii, the heart shaped cactus, gently embodying the ever present love of God. Startling new voices: stop here, look here, watch with me, wait with me. Lord, let me listen. Let me see.
What else is possible? I urge you: show me, as God shows you.