Shifting Sands

The world is at our feet in the desert. Whoever has walked in a desert knows that it is never an easy thing. Either we stand on shifting sands or jagged rocks. Both burn like coals. It’s hard to find a place to stand when the very ground beneath you is constantly shifting. In certain places, if the conditions are right, the ground can swallow you whole.

What things grow in the desert, though they be covered with beautiful blossoms, are either poisonous or covered with thorns or both. Jesus spoke of ground like this when he said, “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.” Matthew 13:5-7 The plants native to the desert may promise sweetness and show us beauty, but reaching it will cost us blood and tears. If the seed in Jesus’ parable is the word of God, it won’t sprout here. We have to carry it in our hearts.

The desert is a placed to be crossed. We shouldn’t want to linger. The Fathers tell us that the three greatest dangers to a soul are the flesh, the world and the devil. The desert is the world. We can’t lay a foundation on these shifting sands. We have to struggle for every step we take as the quicksand sucks at our ankles, pulling us down and slowly wearing us down. If we quit and stop we will die and the sands will cover us without a trace. What we will see all around us in the sand are the treasures and pretty baubles that others have left behind when they tried to build a life in the world. The Rich Fool said, “I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have … 21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:19-21

The desert is a graveyard for fools. It swallows them body and soul and leaves their bleached bony hands poking up through the sand still clutching their glittering possessions. In time perhaps another fool will be stupid enough to stop and pick them up. How many lives have been wasted in the sands of time lost in the quest for gold? When Abba Anthony went to the desert he often saw disks of silver and gold in the sands which the devil hid there for him to find and be thus tempted, but Abba Anthony knew better. The wealth of the desert stays in the desert. You cannot take it with you on this journey.

Neither can you leave anything behind as a legacy to your pride. We, like Ozymandias, will find that all our works will fade and be lost. No lasting testament done by man will endure. We should listen to Jesus when he said, “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” Matthew 7:26-27 Its best if we keep moving. This world is not our home.

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