Prophetic cry from the desert, from La Croix

 9 Dec 2017 by Gabriel Ringlet in La Croix

The Hebrew Quara speaks indeed of the prophetic cry of the inspired one. The Arabic Qur’an(Coran) means, literally, “the shout”.

He shouts in the desert. But in contrast to what the popular expression suggests, he does not shout in the void. Everything is overturned and the desert becomes crowded, with people coming from everywhere – from all over Judea, the surrounding region and even from Jerusalem!

Icon of John Baptist as “Angel of desert”. / Wikipedia / PD

According to the Mexican poet Octavio Paz, we cross the same street and go through the same garden every day. Our eyes meet the same red wall every afternoon. Then suddenly, on a day no different from any other, the street opens into a different world. The garden has been planted. The tired wall is covered with signs. What should we call this experience?

Every day soldiers, pilgrims, and caravans travel along the same road to reach the Jordan River. Every afternoon their eyes meet the same trampled sand. Then suddenly, on a day no different from any other, the scenery opens into a different world. The Jordan River has begun to flow. The tired sand is covered with signs. What should we call this experience?

The Gospel calls it “John the Baptist”. And this man shouts, dressed “in camel’s hair” and fed with “locusts and wild honey” – which are, by the way, not bad at all. Sun-dried and preserved in honey or vinegar, grasshoppers had rather a good culinary reputation. And if crushed into powder and mixed with fine flour, they were used to make excellent patties.

This man on fire shouts. He shouts like someone in a marketplace or a football stadium. The Hebrew Quara speaks indeed of the prophetic cry of the inspired one. The Arabic Qur’an(Coran) means, literally, “the shout”.

He shouts in the desert. But in contrast to what the popular expression suggests, he does not shout in the void. Everything is overturned and the desert becomes crowded, with people coming from everywhere – from all over Judea, the surrounding region and even from Jerusalem!

His fame draws the desert out of the city, as far as Jordan’s countryside. What should we call this experience? The poet Georges Haldas might call it the convergence of three deserts: geographical, social and intimate.

The geographical desert, which Haldas also calls the desert of sand, often moves and fascinates us. But it also strips us and sends us back to our own needs and desires. It is where all contradictions and dangers meet.

The Swiss poet says this desert of sand places us in the presence of a perpetual “beyond things”. For him, the encounter in the desert is never neutral. The traveler’s first concern is to stay on the path; that is, on the side of life.

And what of the social desert? We are in the midst of it. It is now, in our streets and our cities. Haldas says that for many of our fellow countrymen the “wild beasts” are not a mirage.

Where has “the poetic feeling” gone, and its twin brother — if you can call it that —, the “child spirit”? It is as if a whole way of “feeling the world” were exiled. And yet, in the catacombs of that desert, “day after day, wordless beings devote themselves to those most humiliated and the most offended”.

And, finally, there is the intimate desert. No one can escape it. This is the desert of loneliness, sickness, and death. It is also the desert of depression, despair, and unbelief. But in this arid desert angels sometimes awaken the unique word that dwells in us and the poem that is within us.

John the Baptist emerges at the juncture of all three of these deserts. At the junction of the social and the intimate that he announces “a baptism of conversion”. Then suddenly, on a day no different from any other, he opens the door to the One who is mightier than himself and he shows us how great it is “to step aside”.

With regard to conversion, Pope Francis reminds us of four perverse attitudes we should avoid with regard to climate change, not just denial and indifference, but also the less spoken of resignation and trust in inadequate solutions.  Let us have faith, creativity, hope and action with regard to what the author here says is “The traveler’s first concern is to stay on the path; that is, on the side of life.”



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