Some years ago, because of an extremely mild and wet winter, the desert area of the southwest U.S. bloomed profusely. It became a tourist attraction as people traveled to see many rarely seen flowers. Of course the desert is not often such a tourist attraction. It is hard, dry, hot or maybe extremely cold, and it offers little nurturance to either animal or human trying to eke out a survival.
Many had gone to the desert to see John the Baptist. Jesus inquires of them their reasons for doing this. He reminds them that the desert is not the place to seek a spectacular sight of comfort or luxury. John was a prophet, his preaching ground a desert.
Today, we find Isaiah speaking to a people whose lives were desert, because of wars and exile. Isaiah offers them a vision of hope. The desert will burst forth in flower. The order of life as they know it will be reversed. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, the speechless will sing. These are the signs that the desert of their lives is passing. So, they are exhorted to have no fear.
When Jesus responds to John’s question regarding his identity, he points to the same reversal of order happening through him. This is not as a future promise, but in Jesus it is a present reality.
Bloom the Desert is an organization whose mission is to revitalize desert soil, in the belief that the soil has the potential to support life. They began a project in Dubai in 2011 and the section of desert treated with their method is now producing food. The goal of Bloom the Desert is to expand their techniques to many arid areas.
Earth calls out for revitalization. The expanding desert is not a natural phenomenon, but the result of centuries of greed and mismanagement of the earth. Earth’s people call out for revitalization of the desert of their lives, much of which is caused through greed and war. The starving millions, the refugees, the trafficked, the enslaved, the gangs in the city deserts all cry out for a blooming of the deserts of their lives, for a reversal of the accepted, but unacceptable, order.
We are called to bloom the deserts of life, not just to offer the image of hope of which Isaiah speaks. Dominic bloomed the desert of heresy, Martin the desert of hunger and suffering. Many great Irishwomen like Nano Nagle and Catherine McAuley bloomed the desert of destitution for so many of Ireland’s poor. Henriette DeLille bloomed the desert of slavery in the city of New Orleans by establishing a community of Black Sisters to teach the enslaved and take care of their sick and elderly, reversing church and civil order. Our Sisters in South Africa, under Sr. Marian’s leadership, bloomed the desert of apartheid in defiance of the law. Juliana Nolan and Mary Lynch bloomed the desert of religious persecution to reestablish Dominican life for women.
What desert will I bloom today? What desert, in our time, might we as a community bloom together? Jesus reversed the accepted order and revitalized people’s lives. As disciples that is our calling. Holding out hope may be good, but temporary. Blooming the desert of a life or many lives that is the gospel call. How can we be sure? “Tell John what you see and hear…” – the hope of Isaiah has become the reality in Jesus and in his true disciples.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP