Desert Heart

Struggle.

My life has become struggle towards some kind of truth glimpsed in the heart, but not otherwise provable.

It began when as a child I stood on the vast desert rocks of Joshua Tree in a silence that was humming, and heard those rocks speak out of some deep core of that silence. They were talking to my heart about the heart. They were telling me the world was built on the promise that is contained in the rock. Much later, as an adult, a Lakota elder told me a similar story when he said that creation began with the Sacred Rock Inyan whose blood was given to make all things. The ancient Jews, also, staked their existence on a promise and I came later to recognise in the Logos of the Greek Christians this Rock whose blood and promise upholds everything and will be with everything forever.

Six summers ago I met in the Lakota University at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, a young man who had fought in a parachute regiment and was now a member of the Kit Fox Warrior Society. In a break from the class we were attending, I recalled from memory the Kit Fox Warrior Song. I knew I was only getting it schematically.

Anything difficult or dangerous we foxes are to do
Only the sky above lasts forever
Only the rocks below last forever
We foxes are born into life to die.

It sounds better in Lakota, he said dryly.

He told me about how in the old days, in a ferocious fight, a particularly bold and brave man who was a member of the Strong Hearts [Cante Tenze] Warrior Society would tie a sash he wore over his shoulders to a stake driven into the ground. He did this to say, I am not moving. You will have to carry me off this field of battle dead. I will not leave it while I still live.

I could see this spirit in the Lakota young man and I recognised it was the spirit that first spoke to me from those rocks as a child, growing up in the empty liberalism and surface glamour of the Hollywood film business.

The promise is what a warrior aspires to be faithful to. And it is this fidelity of heart that receives help and inspiration and power. The fire that falls from the sky enters and dwells in the rock, making it incandescent and alive.

I recall the mysterious lines in Ezekiel where the prophet describes Lucifer, the arch guru and free spirit of self glorifying creativity, as having once walked upon the stones of fire in God’s holy and mysterious place of divine wisdom, but having been cast out.

The struggle to be true to God’s trueness of heart entails letting that poisoned flower of deceptive beauty and shining be burnt up. Yet it also has to overcome the opposite evil that William Blake called Satan the Accuser.1

As the poison of deception is burnt out of our hearts, we are tempted to make the fire of purification into a moral killer, a moralic acid. We are tempted to judge ourselves as never good enough, never true enough, in our fidelity to the promise, or we take such pride in our fidelity that we divide the world into winners and losers, the saved and the lost. Yet it is the very spaciousness of the Rock, its patience and humility, that constitutes the stumbling block on which such Satanic Accusation trips up, and falls. For it has no true standing.

True fidelity, true standing, is in the heart, and is a faith of heart, that allows fidelity to discern the difference between glamour and emptiness of heart, on the one side, and on the other side a cramped fearfulness of heart that in a real but subtle sense does not trust the promise and its patience to win through and win for all.

I still dream of that desert, though I am 50 years and 8000 miles removed from it. I wake up from such dreams with a peculiar pain searing through the heart. A pain of memory and rededication.

It makes me realise how much I yearn for the spirit encounter that left Jacob wounded but blessed, the encounter with the eternal, unchanging rock-solid and rock-deep promise and the terrible power it has to kindle real faith and real fidelity in the mysterious deeps and battlegrounds of the heart.

For in that desert I stood, if only fleetingly, in the midst of the stones of fire and saw Lucifer, son of the morning star, fall from the sky and then, as Satan, dig in to the testing ground and the hard places, waiting to cripple and spoil people’s real struggle of heart to find that faith that will bring them through everything that is difficult or hard, and dangerous, to do.

The faith not afraid to be born into life to die.

NOTES

  1. William Blake speaks of Satan in this way at various points in his work. “A Vision of the Last Judgement” is a description of a painting now lost, which was found in Blake’s notebooks after his death, and assembled from fragments by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Blake says that Christ came to deliver humanity, “the accused”, and not to deliver Satan, “the accuser.” The Last Judgement will be “deliverance from Satan’s Accusation.” Blake develops a powerful, and chilling, vision of Satan as not only the worldly tyrant who uses politics and economics to suppress human freedom, but also as the false god behind most if not all religion; the churches and the priests or ministers are servants of the Satanic Accuser and his religion of judgementalism. It is Satan who twists our honest awareness of failure to hit the mark into a tormenting sense of sin in which we look upon our human nature as inherently evil, and conclude it is wrong to have any thirst and hunger for life. This cripples us with guilt and fear, and therefore makes us susceptible to any ‘authority’ that claims to know why we are in the wrong and how to put us right. In the poem “To the Accuser Who Is The God of This World”, Satan is addressed thus: “Though thou art worshipped by the names divine, of Jesus and Jehovah, thou art still the Son of Morn in weary night’s decline, the lost traveler’s dream under the hill.” The ‘Son of Morn’ is an allusion to Lucifer, expelled from heaven, appearing in the sky as a false dawn, before plummeting to earth to become Satan, the secular and religious prince of worldliness, which Blake calls “the Empire of nothing.” The connection between Blake’s ‘Satan’, and Dostoyevsky’s ‘Grand Inquisitor’, is surely clear. Every worldly authority, whether secular or religious, tends toward the Satanic; and we remain under the dominion of the Satanic not only when we are self-despairingly sunk in sin but also when we are self-righteously condemnatory of sin. It was this Satanic ruler, both secular and religious, who crucified Christ. Significantly, the vision of St John in the very last book of the Bible returns to this theme of Satan as accuser of humanity. Thus Revelation, 12, 7-12, recapitulates the story of Lucifer/Satan falling from heaven and “coming down” to earth and sea “in great wrath, because he knows his time is short.” In verse 10, it says redemption has come through Christ: “for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them day and night before our God.” Thus, it is clear that Christ is the Advocate for the Human Heart, even as Satan is the Accuser of the Human Heart; and in verse 11, it says this relentless and unending accusation that Satan brings to God, seeking to prove humanity is an experiment that has failed, is only defeated by Christ’s sacrifice, which is “the blood of the Lamb”, and by the humans who testify to this by their own sacrifice, “for they loved not their lives even unto death.”