I’ve been blessed to spend much of Advent in the California and Arizona deserts. The desert is a place of waiting and expectation. Jesus would go to the desert to pray and reflect. The stillness and silence helps us, like Mary, to ponder in our hearts the meaning of God’s promises. Somehow, the apparent barrenness of the desert focuses our sight. We begin to perceive life hidden there. This turns our contemplation to the hope of Christmas and, in a larger sense, to Christ’s second coming at the end of ages.
I visited Anza Borrego Desert State Park in California and enjoyed hiking to the Palm Canyon oasis with friends. Wandering along a rocky path to the Wind Caves called to mind the force of wind and sand. The Spirit goes where it will and God certainly carved out some fascinating caves and sculptures here. Later I sought in vain the elusive Big Horn Sheep along more mountain trails.
Not far away in Desert Hot Springs I found lovely churches for prayer and worship. Hiking in the desert stillness lifts my mind and heart to God, but community found in local churches and RV parks is as necessary as silence. Both shared worship and walking alone with God draw me close to the Baby in the manger at this time of year.
Finally, Joshua Tree National Park capped off my California desert roaming. The cholla cacti glowed in the sunset while tumbled rock formations provided fantastic views. The crazy trees that give the park its name sprout wild branches with spiky leaves. They look like explosions of green hair standing on end atop goofy troll faces hiding beneath. Beyond the trees, calm vistas of grey and ecru mountains spotted with clumps of cacti and succulents remind me of watercolor paintings.
From California I towed my shiny home south to Lake Havasu, Arizona. There I found delightful companions at an RV park. One night I enjoyed an evening parade of decorated boats under the famous London Bridge. Every variety of Santa and snowmen plus some daredevil jet skiers twinkled with Christmas lights to entertain the crowds. Nonetheless, lavish displays glowing along the shore, like those of the boats, failed to depict the true meaning of the season. The very secular celebration included the Grinch and toy soldiers but not the essence of the holiday.
My sadness at not seeing even one float with a Nativity or angels fled after I found a very active Catholic parish plus a Live Nativity at another nearby church later the following weekend. Our Lady of the Lake hosted a joyful celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, including Mass, a procession, a mariachi band, and folkloric dancers.
Near my RV park, New Hope Calvary Church needed volunteers for its drive-through nativity. Unexpectedly, I ended up dressed in a toga waving a palm frond at “Caesar” in a tableau depicting his announcement of the census in Bethlehem. Volunteers, assorted donkeys, sheep and even a camel shared the true meaning of the season by inviting visitors into scenes from the Gospel. The desert sand and hills perfectly framed scenes from the Annunciation to the manger to the visit of the Three Kings. When things got slow, the Angels even danced and sang a bit from high on the hill overlooking the drive through the Live Nativity.
A blessed Advent and Merry Christmas to all!