Desolate Places? – Look, See, Pray

You walk down beside the remnants of an ancient Norman castle. Brambles & hawthorn hedge the path on both sides. As the path ends, a wide vista opens up. Salt marsh and mudflat, reeds and seawater as far as the eye can see. Even on a sunny day, there is a desolate air of wildness. Human habitation is far away. There is a great deal of nothing.

On a cold grey January day it could be a depressing prospect. Look, see, shiver…

Despite first appearance, this is no desolation. It is a tidal inlet swarming with life. Pagham Harbour is a wildlife sanctuary now, internationally important for many species of migrating wildfowl. Take the time to let peace settle, and the cries of wading birds will take over.  Finches and larks fill the hedges. Swans glide over the sparkling sea, and sanderlings and curlews probe the mud with their long thin bills, looking for the worms and shellfish that provide a “wild Waitrose” for the flocks passing through.

A fortunate spotter may glimpse kingfishers, herons, and even peregrine falcons. It’s a paradise, not a wasteland. The keen winds are a fresh breath for the soul.

Many of us have seasons of life which seem desolate. Loss and grief, unexpected changes in our circumstances, or spiritual crises sideswipe our ordered lives. Comfort is replaced by wild loneliness- we are exposed and may even feel friendless. God may seem distant- we may even doubt His very existence. Such times have been described as “the dark night of the soul.”

Pagham mud ed1 026bike ride

Perhaps the experience can be an opportunity to discover new life, new growth, even renewed hope.

Discoveries like those become precious because we find them in the harsh places.

Many of the great Bible characters spend time in the desert.

Moses, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus… all encountered the Holy Presence out in the wilderness- in the very place that was thought of as the haunt of demons and evil spirits. The desolation proved to be a storehouse of blessing.

In fact, it is the very isolation and wildness of the desert places that helps to quiet the inner babble and allow us to listen for the Voice of God. Seeking the Lord without distraction, choosing to step out of the comfort zone so that vulnerability becomes a gateway to God.

Have you a “wild place” where you can go? A quiet place to withdraw- and listen?

Luke 5:16 (NLT)  But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

If it was good enough for Jesus…

Text and photographs (c) copyright Richard Starling, 2018.

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