During my artist’s residency at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the Chihuahua Desert, I crafted set of daily meditations. These are catalyzed by the sources of religious inspiration adopted by Unitarian Universalism:
Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
Savoring Guadalupe Mountains National Park means harmonizing with daily and seasonal patterns: the coolness of mornings, the heat of afternoons, the blooming of wildflowers (delicate flaxes and phloxes when I was here), and the mating of insects (cactus longhorn beetles copulating enthusiastically during my visit). At Smith Springs, a bird chirped with metronomic regularity, until interrupted by a javelina’s sporadic snuffle-grunts—an enchanting discordance. So, let’s also celebrate arrhythmias: erratic spacing of desert candles, jumbles of limestone, and fitful yips of coyotes. I hiked steadily—until stopping randomly to inspect a pile of scat, prod a ring-necked snake, catch a band-winged grasshopper, or chuckle at the butt-lifting antics of darkling beetles. Regularity encourages inattentiveness; syncopation demands awareness.
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Who are my neighbors in the Chihuahua Desert? Proximity seems decisive; however, it’s not very neighborly to have thorns, stings and fangs. Neighbors should deliver cookies, not venom. But deserts challenge bodies, souls—and assumptions. Loving our neighbors can take many forms. Does tolerating the black widow under my stairs count? Surely neither a tarantula nor the wasp seeking to paralyze the spider and drag it to her lair where a larva will feed on the still-living prey evoke affection. Perhaps the answer is agape—the love of the unlovable, which Jesus offered to lepers, and which I might extend to the mangy coyote skulking around the dumpster and the hopeful vultures circling while I rest on a hike.
Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life
Contemporary ethics can be a matter of doing whatever produces the greatest good (alas, cairns can both guide hikers and lead them astray) or accords with our duties and rights such as, “don’t collect natural or historic objects” (unless you’re authorized—and, alas, that’s complicated). But there is another, ancient path with fewer stumbling blocks: cultivating virtue as the basis of ethical living. The Greeks encouraged character traits such as courage, truthfulness, and friendship. What would be the Desert Virtues? I propose three attributes, fostered by this harsh land, which are desperately needed in our coddled culture: perseverance, forbearance, and humility. Deserts are where tenacious individuals tolerate physical discomfort until reaching their metaphysical limits.