Before we moved to New Mexico, we went on a scouting expedition: explorers entering a foreign land to determine if it could actually sustain life. That’s an exaggeration. For us, in any case. What isn’t is the mysterious nature of the high desert to people who grew up at sea level with their toes blue from soaking in the Pacific Ocean.
We camped at Water Canyon, which is 6800 feet elevation at the trailhead. In this unfamiliar land, in the dark of night, we heard the clanging of trash bin lids, a sound we recognized from our Oregon camping life. While it’s possible human vagrants enjoy banging cans in the middle of the night as they search for scraps of food, it’s more likely to be bears. And judging by the signs around the camp that warned against the beasts, bears were most likely responsible.
First the bears found us, and then it started raining. Although we’ve since learned that water in Water Canyon is a rare phenomenon, it fooled us on that first visit because it rained so hard we thought we might be washed down the gully — and make no mistake, this happens. When it rains in New Mexico, it pours. It floods.
To be honest, rain is also a familiar sound to Oregonians. The desert operates in extremes, though. It operates in high highs and low lows, in emptiness followed by arroyos clogged by floods that rip out shrubs and break away the dry wood. And so a new cycle in our lives ensued, heralded by floods and bears and the birth of a new child. She was born in the rain of New Mexico, before the high desert gave way to its other extremes.
In Oregon, I swam in the ocean. I swam in great rivers. As a child, I nearly drowned in an Oregon lake because I didn’t have the stamina to swim to shore — and that was one of the smaller bodies of water. Water disappearing was not part of my childhood. In fact, it was rather the opposite. The water was so everpresent in Oregon that it fully saturated my head. But here in New Mexico, I experienced extreme dryness for the first time.
Bears hibernate and then lumber awake, and they are fierce and hungry and full of aching life, banging on trash cans to find it. Desert waterways are the same. They are conceptually like bears — symbols of constant rebirth. While the droughts last, the Rio Grande dies completely in places; in others, it lingers, but only as peaceful rivulets etching out waving patterns in the sand. But when the rains come — and I mean really come! — the Rio Grande turns into a wild river that spreads over its banks, fierce and hungry and full of aching life. It becomes a rio salvaje.
These cycles in life are normal, but they are writ large in the consciousness of New Mexicans who must live through the droughts before the rains will come. After living here for twenty years, I’ve come to see my life as a series of droughts and floods. I, too, operate in extremes in work and sleep. Since moving away from the River Valley three years ago, I’ve been in a perpetual drought. At least it has felt that way. I haven’t been creative or intellectual or offered anything of value to the world. I’ve been in a desolate wasteland. A drought before storms.
But lately…lately, I’ve been picturing my many projects and variant skillsets like the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel’s vision, God connected the disparate bones together, ball into appropriate socket. The bones took on flesh, and God breathed life into them just as he had done to Adam. In fact, this ghostly vision of dry bones rising up has haunted my mind for months. Then the reality of the vision hit me: God was going to renew his people. It was a promise he made through the prophets. By extension, God promises to save us through Jesus breathing new life into our dry bones. But through Jesus, the cycle was completed. There would no longer need to be droughts followed by floods; no more hibernation followed by the intense hunger of awakening. I should have already known this, but there is a difference between knowing something and accepting it as truth in the core of being.
The spirit of God is a deluge, but like the River Valley, his great river has been diverted into arroyos, watering the crops that have sustained the people for centuries. In the yearly cycles of the Rio Grande, the diverted flood waters have led to the harvests of fall. And that’s where they’ve led me. Not to a time of rebirth, reawakening, or an opening of the flood waters, because that already happened. On a micro level, seasons still occur in our spiritual walk with God, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the once-for-all renewal that planted a seed that has already sprouted and grown continually in the direction of the light. That harvest, watered by the spirit, is now ready to be brought in.
It strikes me that I have friends who are also entering their time of harvest, but they, too, sense instead that they’re in drought, that the fruits they’ve labored to produce have died on the vine before bringing anything to the world. Or they sense the harvest passed them by, leaving their fruit to rot. But this is not true. The Bible promises it is not true, in numerous passages. In Psalms: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” In Philipians: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” In Psalms again: “He [whose delight is in the law of God] is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” In Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The time of harvest is, in a sense, also a foreign land, but not a place I can scout out ahead of time to get a lay of the land. I have a sense of the harvest, anyway. I have a sense from reading about the harvests of saints who’ve gone before me. I can sense it in other ways, too. And it’s good. The work to bring it in may be difficult, but the fruit is there because the harder work, the initial work, happened a long time ago.