Several years ago I wrote an article called "Silence" which I want to share with you in two parts. This is part one with the dates and times revised:
At times, I find myself craving silence. Although thankful for my full life, occasionally I need to get away.
I’m excited about the many people from different countries and backgrounds that God brings in my life. I appreciate the folks who appear at our door and for the calls we receive on our phones. I’m grateful for these interactions and relationships, some deeper and others more transitory, because I believe this is what life is about. Only God and people are eternal – everything else is temporary. But every so often I long to retreat and experience silence and solitude.
For thirty-eight years, my husband John’s and my life has revolved around managing the Shelter Hostel in Eilat, Israel on the Red Sea. A hostel is like a fire station – it’s open 24/7, 365 days a year. In addition, John is the leader of the Eilat Congregation, an international fellowship in our small city. In order to keep our sanity, we need a break once in a while, and living between the Negev and the Sinai Deserts, a trip into the wilderness is our ideal way to rest and revive.
The desert holds a special place in our hearts. I sometimes ask myself if it’s because we have lived for over forty-five years in Eilat and any natural environment would have the same effect. Or is there something unique about the desert? The stark, empty, and expansive landscape provides long vistas and jagged edges. With few living things –whether plant or animal – your eyes catch the slightest movement of a bird, camel or ibex, however far in the distance. The utter silence is broken only by the sound of the wind and the persistent buzzing flies. Even a short trip requires knowledge and careful planning in order to survive.
In contrast, I grew up amidst the forests of the United States’ East Coast. Dense and teeming with life, the forest envelops and confines you. A person or an animal could sneak up on you with no warning. The richness of woodland life fills your senses with scents of flowers, mosses, and rotting wood, and with sounds of bird songs, animal noises, and rushing water.
Its minimalism and austerity is one of the desert’s attractions for me, a place you can simply be yourself before God. No makeup or artificial props are required. Most areas have no cellular connection. Even our diet in the desert is usually basic – tea and pita cooked over hot coals with a humus dip and dates.
The Hebrew word for desert conveys a message. Midbar is usually translated in the Bible as “wilderness” and can also mean an uninhabited land, uncultivated, and without vegetation. In short, the opposite of what makes life convenient and comfortable, the antithesis of civilization. In Hebrew every word has a three-letter root and the same root for midbar is found in daber which means “to speak.” What is the connection? When all our usual support is removed and life gets down to the fundamentals, words come through clearly and loudly. In the desert I tend to pray with my eyes open, gazing on God’s marvelous creation as I speak to Him and hearing in my heart His response.
Nineteen years ago on an excursion to Ein Zik, a remote oasis in the middle of the Negev, we met a young couple who told us they were hiking the Israel National Trail. After a short conversation, both John and I became captivated by the idea of trekking this thousand kilometer route from the Lebanese to the Egyptian border. Pressure had been building up in our lives, and we sensed this would be the perfect way to regroup, relax, and rethink.
“Let’s do it in the next two years,” John said, “before my sixtieth birthday, a mini-sabbatical.”
Could we really walk its entirety? Driving the whole length of Israel took about eight hours. How long would walking take? This was a huge jump from anything we’d ever done. Maybe it was a crazy idea that would soon pass.
When we came home from that desert encounter, we began taking steps to turn our dream into a reality. John sought a replacement. I found a guide in Hebrew about the Israel Trail and began research on the internet.
Studying the book, I concluded we would need about two months to complete our walk. If we began in the spring in the south, we would hopefully avoid Israel’s rainy season and wouldn’t need to carry huge quantities of water – one of the most challenging aspects of the Israel Trail.
Up until Arad, nearly half way through the Trail, we would be in the desert with few roads or towns. Camping out in the cold desert nights, we would need good sleeping bags, a tent, and ground pads to cushion our aging bones from the sand and rocks. On a couple of stretches we would be lugging supplies for three days.
Though in fairly good shape, we hadn’t backpacked for years. My regular gym classes took on a new significance.
“Let’s do some practice hikes,” I suggested. “Especially climbing mountains.”
That was my fear – Israel is full of hills and mountains, and I could see from the maps that the Israel Trail seemed to twist and turn to take in every high place. Yet, with God’s help, step by step we prepared for our adventure.