Category Archives: spiritual

Beauty In The Wilderness

I originally posted Beauty In The Wilderness in March 2011 as I prepared for Lent.  I have edited it to eliminate the connection to Lent so I could repost it today as I have recently been connecting to many people who are presently wandering in the wilderness and I wanted to remind them that God is not causing their wilderness but he is with them in the wilderness.

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that way anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.

It was during a wilderness experience where I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay for me to be me – in fact, it was better than okay, it was good.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in the wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God and about the world you live in even when you find yourself wandering in the wilderness.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

 

The Resurrection I Firmly Believe In

This post is part of the April Synchroblog: The Resurrection Hoax.  I will list the links to all the contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

Few really believe.  The most only believe that they believe or even make believe.  ~John Lancaster Spalding

I had to chuckle a little when I read the description of this month’s synchroblog because it said “we” (we being the synchroblog organizing team which I am a part of) firmly believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I chuckled because that isn’t true for me.  I don’t like to say it out loud because I don’t want to deal with the outrage of Christians who believe that makes me a heretic or who claim if I don’t believe in a literal resurrection then I should not call myself a Christian (I don’t use the label much but it still bothers me for someone to tell me I’m not a “real” Christian).

I don’t have a problem with those who do “firmly” believe in the physical resurrection of Christ.  I’m not even one of those people who would think it is an irrational belief because I do believe miraculous things sometimes take place.  I just can’t say I “firmly believe in the historical reality of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus”.

I don’t want people trying to “prove” to me the resurrection of Jesus really happened.  I could make all of the same arguments they will make (maybe even better than they will make them) and I probably did at some point to someone.  But, the truth is no one can prove the physical resurrection of Jesus really happened.  If you believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ you must believe it even though it cannot be proven to be true.

For years I did believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ but during my journey of faith I was duped (in my opinion) by the church about some things and so these days I don’t place my belief in things so easily.  These days I am more careful about what I claim to believe.  I pray, I study, I examine, I think, I listen, I talk about something (a lot) before I claim it as a belief.  If it cannot be proven then I try and decide if it is necessary for me to believe one way or the other about whatever it is.  If not, I just let it be and settle in with “I don’t know”.  I’m okay with “I don’t know” when it comes to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So if you ask me if I believe the physical resurrection of Christ really happened my answer is “I don’t know.”  However, I do “firmly” believe in the deeper truth the resurrection of Christ symbolizes.  I believe that the work of God and the way of Jesus brings life out of death.  I’ve seen it too many times not to.

So, how has my lack of belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus affected me and my Christian faith??

Well, after a lot of time pondering the resurrection I am much more likely to take the time to listen to others – to love the unlovable – to bring joy and hope to situations – to forgive instead of holding a grudge – to love justice more than individual rights – to put other’s interests above my own – to be generous in all ways – to stand up for those who are oppressed and marginalized – to work to change unjust systems – to try and follow in the way of Jesus Christ.

The interesting thing is these days of not believing “firmly” in the physical resurrection of Jesus are actually proving to be days when I am much more likely to live as if I do believe in the resurrection – as if I do believe the tomb was empty – as if I do believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

Go figure!

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Check out the other contributions:

Better Than Hope

This post is a contribution to the January synchroblog which is being done in partnership with Provoketive Magazine.  The theme is Hope.  You can go to Provoketive Magazine and read all of the synchroblog posts and I’ll also put links to each person’s individual blog post at the end of this post as they become available. No matter where you read these posts I strongly suggest you check out Provoketive Magazine! It’s a very cool online space that features pieces on faith, life, justice and culture.  I love the look and content!

I grew up hearing how great and necessary hope is, which is why I was so shocked when I first heard about the notion to “abandon hope.”

Last year I participated in the tradition of choosing one word as a sort of theme for the year.  My word for 2011 was Awaken.  I chose Awaken because I wanted to pursue the practice of being fully present in the moment. In my efforts to learn more about being fully present I ran across the Buddhist idea of “abandoning hope.”

Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, wrote, “One of our deepest habitual patterns is to feel that now is not good enough.”  Chodron encourages us to abandon hope and put our energy into being where we are. She informs us that as long as we are putting our energy into the desire for something or someone to be different (which is what hope leads to) the present moment will be lost.  When the present moment is lost we lose opportunities that can only be found by staying in the moment that hope wants to sweep us away from. When we are swept away from the present reality to a vision of an imagined future we lose answers and solutions and healing that we can only know when we stay and face our pain and our fears.  If we are caught up in hoping for a future result we cannot embrace the present moment.

A famous Buddhist saying is “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails.” In other words, hope and fear are intrinsically connected – you hope because you are afraid of what is happening or not happening – without fear hope would not be needed.  The present – which is demanding your attention here and now – may not look appealing and yet it may have something deeper to offer you than a hoped for future. The idea is that this method of befriending our present concern affords us a clarity of action that we can never gain while trying to avoid or rid ourselves of our pain and fears.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t have a positive attitude. And there are certainly times when hope allows people to take that next step and behave “as if,” despite all evidence to the contrary.  But abandoning hope isn’t really about being negative.  Abandoning hope is more about detaching ones self from success or failure.  It isn’t about giving up in a way that would make you stop working or striving.  It is a kind of positive giving up that not only has the potential to reveal to you what it is that makes you more fully alive but at the same time affords you the ability to put even more effort and energy into whatever that is.

Thomas Merton, the late Christian mystic, advised a friend: “Do not depend on the hope of results … you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.  As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself…”

We typically have a purpose for everything that we do.  We want to succeed at accomplishing our goal and not fail.  That is fine.  However, what happens so much of the time is our thoughts of success or failure begin to become more important than what we are doing and how we are doing it.  The fear of failure causes us to become more rigid, less compassionate, more impatient, less creative, more cautious, less willing to take risks – all because we cling so desperately to a successful outcome.

WOW!  This new way of thinking about hope was making sense to me.  At least enough sense that I wanted to try to put some of this stuff into practice, so over the past year I have tried to merge what I was learning about hope with my pursuit to be more present in the moment.

Where did all of this new thinking about hope lead me?

Well, I still find myself hoping as a reaction to fear or worry.  But at least I am usually aware of that happening and can stop and focus on remaining in the moment – letting myself experience the feelings more fully – being more aware of myself in the present moment (Buddhists call that being mindful or waking up).

And I still find myself performing a task or doing work with a goal in mind but at least I am getting better about the goal not overshadowing the action.  As a result I feel less attached to outcomes and more interested in the value of what I am doing and how I am doing it.  I don’t know if I am accomplishing as much but I think what I do is a higher quality, more enjoyable and unique.

My problems have not all disappeared because none of this stops life from happening.  The hope and fear continue to return because the practice of letting go of hope and fear is hard to embrace. But I keep training and practicing and the more I train and practice the more I am able to lessen unnecessary suffering and worry.  I believe that I am more present in the moment and that the more I wake up the more compassion I have towards myself and others, the more creative I feel, the more risks I am willing to take, the more discernment I seem to have about what I should spend my time and energy pursuing.  It’s a process and honestly I feel like I could let all the progress slip away without much notice if I don’t remain vigilant but all in all I think I am discovering something better than hope.  I think I am discovering now.

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Below is a list of all the posts and participants in this month’s synchroblog.  There are two links for each contribution listed.  The link on the title of the post will take you to the Provoketive Magazine site where all the pieces are posted and the link on the author’s name will take you to their personal blog.  I encourage you to not only read these wonderful pieces about “Hope” but to also check out the contributors personal blogs.  

The Trouble With HopeJohn Ptacek

Hope = Possibility x ImaginationWayne Rumsby

Little RemindersMike Victorino

Where Is My HopeJonathan Brink

Hope for HypocritesJeremy Myers

Now These Three RemainSonny Lemmons

Perplexed, But Still HopefulCarol Kuniholm

A Hope that LivesAmy Mitchell

Generations Come and Generations GoAdam Gonnerman

Demystifying HopeGlenn Hager

God in the Dark: On HopeRenee Ronika Klug

Keeping Hope AliveMaurice Broaddus

Are We Afraid to Hope?Christine Sine

On Wobbly Wheels, Split Churches and FearLaura Droege

Adopting HopeTravis Klassen

Hope is Held Between UsEllen Haroutunian

Hope: In the Hands of the Creatively MaladjustedMihee Kim-Kort

Paradox, Hope and RevivalCity Safari

Good Theology SavesReverend Robyn

Linear: Never Was, Never Will BeKathy Escobar

Better Than HopeLiz Dyer

Caroline for Congress: Hope for the FutureWendy McCaig

Fumbling the Ball on HopeKW Leslie

Content to HopeAlise Wright

Hope: Oh, the Humanity!Deanna Ogle

What’s Your Relationship Status With Jesus and Religion?

First let me say that I thought some people were too harsh in their criticism of Jeff Bethke’s viral video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”.  At the same time, I don’t have a problem with people stating and discussing what they don’t like or disagree with in the video/poem. (I think artists should expect the public to analyze and critique their work)

To be honest I didn’t like the video from the beginning.  In fact, the first time I saw it I only watched for about a minute before I shut it down.  My first impression was that it had been done before and better (I still think that to be the case although I can’t point to an example) but as more and more people began to criticize it I listened to it again (all the way through this time) and realized that I also had a problem with some of the theological statements Bethke was making.  My biggest complaint was that he was promoting the penal substitution atonement theory.  I believe that theory to be wrong and very damaging.  However, that doesn’t mean that I want to spend a lot of time or energy dumping on Bethke – that would be a waste of time and not something that would line up with my idea of what it means to be a Christ follower. But, I am interested in some of the conversations that are coming out of this. For instance this post, Jesus and Religion’s Relationship Status: It’s Complicated, from my friend Michael William Morrell has some excellent “stuff” for us to ponder and discuss. What about you? What’s your relationship status with Jesus and religion?

Have You Inhaled Demon Spirits?

This post is part of the September Synchroblog: “The Devil Made Me Do It” in which we were invited to write about any weird, whacky or just plain different things we’ve heard taught about Satan.

I’ve heard a lot of things that were supposed to be “of the devil” over the years.

Rock Music

Mental Disorders

Secular Colleges

Same Sex Relationships

Yoga

Halloween

Computers

Infertility

Video Games

Harry Potter

Depression

Natural Disasters

Cancelling MidWeekChurchService

To be honest with you I don’t believe that Satan is an actual entity.  I tend to think of Satan more as a metaphor of our ability (or freedom to choose) to do evil, to lie and believe lies, to reject goodness, to hate, to neglect doing good etc.  However, there are many Christians who do believe that Satan is an actual entity – a fallen angel who rebelled against God and spends his time trying to keep people from knowing they are loved and accepted by God.  Personally I feel that we are all very proficient at doing that to ourselves and each other… and therefore, if Satan does actually exist, I can’t imagine that there is much to keep him busy since people appear to be doing his work for him.

Most people I know who believe that Satan is an actual entity don’t go around saying that the devil made them do this or that, or warning people to avoid so and so because it is of the devil.  Most people I know who believe that Satan is an actual entity seem to have the attitude that if they follow in the way of Jesus, believe that God loves them and practice loving others they don’t have to worry much about Satan … but every once in a while you run across someone saying something that is way out there about Satan, the devil and/or demonic spirits.

For example, can you believe there are people who have taken the time to record President Obama talking in reverse???? There are those that say President Obama is Satan, or the son of Satan, or the warm-up act of Satan … or at the very least that he likes Satan.  They know this because when you listen to him say “Yes, we can!” in reverse it sounds like “Thank you, Satan.”  What more proof do you need?

And then there is Michelle Bachmann who says (although now that she is running for President she doesn’t want to talk about it) that calling people who are sexually attracted to the same sex “gay” is “a part of satan” and that people who are in same sex relationships are “enslaved” and/or “in bondage” (which is Christianese for serving Satan):

And we can’t forget about Pat Robertson (he seems to know a lot about the devil) talking about people who practice martial arts and how they get some kind of super strength from inhaling demon spirits:

Have you ever inhaled demon spirits? Did it give you super strength?  I’d really love to hear from someone who has some experience with this?

If you don’t have a story to share about inhaling demon spirits just tell me about something wacky you’ve heard about the devil.

 

Here is the list of others who participated in this month’s synchroblog.  Check them out!

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – The Devil Made Me Go To Church

K.W. Leslie at More Christ – Devilish Misinformation

Marta Layton at Fidesquarens – The Christian Jihad

Sonnie Swenston-Forbes at A Piece Of My Mind – The Devil Made Me Do It

Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – The [one who will go unnamed] Made Me Do It 

Kathy Escobar at kathy escobar – the stranger (who’s a little too familiar) & the shepherd

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Have You Inhaled Demon Spirits?

Leah Chang at desert spirit’s fire – devils, demons, et al

We Cannot Capture The Wind

This post is part of the June Synchroblog: Faith, Feasts and Foreshadowing in which we were invited to reflect on Shavuot and Pentecost and what we might learn from the similarities or differences in the two religious feasts.  I will post the links of all the participants at the end of this post when they are available.  To learn more about the synchroblog please visit the Synchroblog site.

The Spirit is like the wind.  The wind often arises unexpectedly, and blows with such force that everything in its path is toppled over and displaced.  If we are honest, this is the challenging aspect of this metaphor concerning the Spirit.  We cannot capture the wind. In this way, Pentecost serves as a reminder that the Spirit blows through all of our categories and continues to do the unexpected.  We may think we have grasped the wind, only to find that it has blown in a different direction.  In the face of such a wonderful mystery, we can either shield ourselves from its power, or revel in the wind that eludes our grasp.  – Margaret Manning

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This month Jews and Christians will each celebrate a spring festival.  Jews will celebrate Shavuot on June 8 and Christians will celebrate Pentecost on June 12.  The two spring festivals have some remarkable similarities: 

Shavuot is 50 days after Passover.  Pentecost is 50 days after the resurrection. 

Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah at Mt.Sinai.  Pentecost marks the giving of the Holy Spirit. 

At Shavuot the law of Yahweh was written on stone.  At Pentecost the law of Yahweh was written on hearts. 

During Shavuot about 3,000 were slain.  During Pentecost about 3,000 received salvation. 

Shavuot represents the founding day of Judaism.  Pentecost represents the founding day of the Christian church. 

During Shavuot the spirit of God descends in a fiery cloud.  During Pentecost the spirit of God descends as tongues of fire. 

In both stories, the divine word comes down from heaven and is spoken to God’s people. 

However, there is one distinct difference between Shavuot and Pentecost that I find particularly interesting and insightful.

According to the book of Acts Jesus’ disciples were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they begin “to speak in other tongues as the spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4b)  As this happened a diverse crowd gathered and was amazed that each one heard what was being said in their own language.  The sign that they were surely hearing from God lay in the miracle that each one heard the same message but in the language they needed to hear it in.

In contrast, the event at Mt.Sinai is described by Rabbis as each person receiving the teaching that he or she most needed to hear.  An older person would have heard something different than a younger person.  A sick person would have received a lesson that was different from the one a healthy person received.  A child would have heard what he or she needed to hear.  A person with much would not hear the same thing as a person who had little. Men and women would have heard according to their own needs.  The content of God’s message was different depending upon who was receiving it.  The sign that they were surely hearing the voice of God was not that one message went out to all, but that each person heard what they needed to hear.  In other words, an infinite God spoke in infinite ways and what he said depended upon who he was speaking to.

Although I don’t believe that these two experiences “have” to be pitted against one another; I do find it interesting that most Christians today will insist that there is only one correct interpretation of scripture (what that interpretation is depends on the Christian you are speaking with) while the Judaic tradition still believes that there are many different interpretations of the Torah and that people typically “hear” the lessons they most need in their life.

An infinite God who speaks in infinite ways and what he says depends on who he is speaking to … that is what God sounds like to me. But many Christians would find the idea that there are numerous interpretations of scripture to be dangerous.  They would worry that someone would abuse the scriptures if we took that approach. (As if the abuse doesn’t already take place as people have used scripture to justify slavery and war, the oppression of women, racism and the unjust treatment of LGBT people)!  They insist that God must sound the same to everyone, everytime.  IMO that is making God much smaller than he is – that is like trying to “capture the wind.”

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Be sure and check out the other synchroblog posts:

Kerri at Earth’s Crammed With Heaven… – Transformation

Sarita Brown at Gypsy Queen Journals – Pentecost: A Poem

Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – The Incarnation of the Temple, Torah, and Land

Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – Random Biblical Calendar Thoughts, Unity & Love

K. W. Leslie at More Christ – Pentecost

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – We Cannot Capture The Wind

Emma Nadine at Life by List – An Outpouring of the Spirit

Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – Shadow of Things to Come?

Abbie Waters at No Longer “Not Your Grandfather’s CPA” – Spiritual Gifts

Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – A “Wild Goose” Festival at Pentecost

Kathy Escobar at kathy escobar. – more than the leftovers

John O’Keefe at john c. o’keefe – What’s With This

 

Beauty In The Wilderness

“the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be.” Barbara Brown Taylor

I grew up hearing sermons and bible lessons that talked about God leading us into the wilderness in order to teach us something – about Him, about ourselves, about the world we live in. The “wilderness” was another word for suffering and the reason (they said) God led us into suffering was because in the midst of suffering he was able to get our attention, to cause us to trust him and to make us teachable and transformable.

I believed it and it made me very afraid of God.

Whether it was a relationship problem or an illness or unemployment I didn’t just have the anxiety of the problem at hand to deal with – I also had the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God was making me suffer in order to get my attention so I could be transformed.

I don’t believe that way anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are things I can learn in the wilderness and I believe my wilderness experiences do change me.  I even believe God can bring good out of wilderness situations – I just don’t believe God is causing or orchestrating my suffering. Of course I still battle those beliefs that set God up as my adversary but after I talk myself into remembering God isn’t causing my suffering I can more easily trust God in the midst of my wilderness.  And for as much as I dislike wilderness experiences and spend a fair amount of time and energy avoiding wilderness experiences it is in the wilderness where I have found out the most about who I really am and what my life is really about.  Not so much because of the suffering that takes place in the wilderness but because of the self awareness and self examination it causes, because of the focus it produces, because of the questions it births, because of the humility it generates.  And that is why I am willing to create a sort of prototype wilderness for myself during the season of Lent.

By eliminating some distraction, creating a situation that forces me to focus, giving up a habit or convenience that typically acts as a painkiller and keeps me from entering the wilderness of the present moment where I can know what it is really like to be living the life I am presently living … and, if I am willing to push myself to stay with it for 40 days (because it takes a while to transition from being in a deep sleep to being fully awake) while remembering to connect with God through prayer and contemplation… it is there, in my prototype wilderness, where I just might discover (or rediscover) how to get free of something keeping me from being who I was meant to be, of living the life I was created to live, of realizing my place in the world I am living in.

It was during one of these prototype wildernesses when I discovered God wasn’t the perpetrator of my suffering – that I didn’t need to be punished for who I was and it was okay and good for me to be me.

Not long after that particular experience I ran across the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and fell in love with it … not just because it is a beautifully crafted message but because it reminded me of the beautiful truth I had just discovered while wandering in my prototype wilderness with God.

I leave you with Oliver’s poem in hopes that you too will discover something beautiful about yourself, about God, about the world you live in during this season of Lent.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work, 1986

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This post is part of the March Synchroblog “Experiences In The Wilderness” (in the spirit of Lent).

Here is a list of other stories from the wilderness:

Patrick (at Dual Ravens) was prolific with a four part series called “Musings” and they can be found here:
Part OnePart TwoPart Three and Part Four

Katherine Gunn at A Voice in the Desert writes What is Wilderness?

Wendy McCaig giving us a View from the Bridge brings A Voice Calling in the Wilderness

EmmaNadine who describes Life By List wonders about Life in the Wilderness

Tammy Carter of Blessing the Beloved is taking a rest as she Puts down the axe

Jeremy Myers writing at Til He Comes ponders The Gaping Chasm of Suicide

kathy escobar shares the carnival in my head and writes about belonging

Steve Hayes of Methodius describes Anatomy of exile

Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms writes On Sabbaths, Mountain-Tops… and Brothers’ Keepers

Liz Dyer at Grace Rules discovers Beauty In The Wilderness

Christen Hansel of Greener Grass offers up Snapshots of the Desert