Location, location, location. When presented with the lecture on “East”-ward thinking including the direction of where the Temple faced, where people were brought into exile, and the direction to which God departed from the land, I could not help to be so wide-eyed intrigued with something I had not noticed before. Going East is where things go to die— “permanence ends when one heads east.” In my western cultural mind our orientation is to the North and so we disassociate with the way creation “works,” sunrises to the east, the orient to the east and now I recall, the Magi travelled from the East, coming out of an “oppressive” state to find the Messiah, the Savior who came to set things right.

Seeing the vast desert-like environment that presented itself in front of us like a tan carpet having been tossed about by the wind, I could not help but reflect on the words that some venture into the desert to re-enact or re-connect with God and his provision, for in the desert, He is all one has to survive. Isaiah speaks about the wonderful provision of God, “They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split open the rock and the water gushed out” (Isaiah 48:19) Through the sacred geography I could see that the solitude and desolation of the desert would make me rely on God. Isaiah’s recollection of the Exodus forth-tells of another “spilling” out— this one of blood and not water. Jesus’ blood flowed freely at Calvary in order for those who are thirsty could come, drink and find life.

To find life, we must be willing to sacrifice our self-life and gain one of holiness. Share on X

In the East, one can find their fortress, a safe haven of rest in a dry land. Herod’s construction of Masada was his finest feat, his finest design in a less than fine location. His fortresses were needed for security as well as a status symbol. At this location, I personally had challenges to confront— the fear of heights presents itself to me with the inability to breathe, confronting this height issue at Masada becomes a symbol of strength and liberty, in God and in myself. Psalm 18:1-2 states “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Herod built Masada as a symbol of his own strength, his own refuge, his own symbol as a Messiah-type. But I see in the stones of Masada a place to connect with the Lord of lords and find the ability to sacrifice to a life of self and gain one of purification.

In the desert, one can separate from the crowded scene of religiosity and focus on a life dedicated to the One true God. The Qumran community showed me that the idea of isolation is somewhat false. You can always be adopted into a community. Here at JUC, I feel adopted into a new-found community of brothers and sisters seeking to know more about this Jesus and his “way,” I may not agree with the practices or some of the theological notions from the Qumran community, but seek to know that Jesus himself brought through his teachings something new. It is the same package being showcased in a new way, Isaiah also speaks of things being “new” throughout his gospel. I have the ability to bring the new parts of me in character to God for him to use.

A highlight of the day was the “floating” in the Dead Sea. I was first apprehensive to go into the water just because it is also a fear, the fear of drowning but since we would just float about, I am excited that I took part in that activity. This was a day of facing fears and I tried not to express it around this new group of friends. When I think back often on this day, I will take away two things: first is that God has gone out into the wilderness with me and second is that time spent in the desert may be grueling, but one comes back refreshed.