Caught In A Desert Thunderstorm

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Vulnerability Can Help Us Hear The Voice Of God More Clearly

by Eric Elkin

The voice of the Lord
makes lightning flash
    and the desert tremble.
And because of the Lord,
    the desert near Kadesh
    shivers and shakes.
— Pslam 29: 7ff

Desert climates frighten me. My skin burns very quickly. The absence of shade from the sun reminds me of every bad sunburn I’ve ever experienced. Extreme heat during the day and bone-chilling cold at night bear witness to the difficulty of preparing for this type of environment. Preparation is critical for recreation in the desert. The lack of water in arid conditions leaves little room for mistakes. 

More than anything, I fear being caught in a desert thunderstorm. In a dry land, the earth is as electrically charged as the clouds above. This means the ground only feeds the power of lightning descending from clouds. Lightning can split rocks, crack trees and melt sand. Where does one find shelter in such a barren world?

Author Jon Remmerde wrote an article about his experience of being caught in a desert thunderstorm as a child. Caught off guard, his family found shelter in an abandoned mine shaft. His description of the event touches upon every one of my fears. Lightning fractured rocks and filled the air with the smell of them burning. The crack of electricity pierced his ears and shook the ground. 

Then there was the power of the wind, which he described as “a loud and wild voice.” It always changed directions and swirled across the desert valley. Nothing was safe in its path, not even a family in the dark shadows of a rock cave. For me, just reading the article made me feel afraid and vulnerable.

The author, however, felt completely different. He remembers the spell it cast over his soul. Even as a vulnerable child he was not afraid. Instead, he was totally enchanted by the power and beauty of the event. One can tell he longs to be caught once again in a storm where he can hear that “loud and wild voice,” one more time. 

I wasn’t frightened as much as amazed, in wordless awe. The mountain protected me. My family stood close around, sheltered by the knowledge that we were all together.
— Jon Remmerde

Whether you find majesty or fear in the wilderness, the natural world reminds us of our vulnerability to conditions we cannot control. It seems logical for the psalmist to draw upon this image to communicate the power of the voice of God. And, it is also understandable for people to be divided about how events like a desert storm can be interpreted. 

My fear of desert climates is grounded in being exposed to my weaknesses. However, my vulnerability is also a healthy thing. It reminds me not to trust in my own power too much. My weakness helps me hear the presence of God a little more clearly. And, pulls me out of isolation to find support from others.

Loneliness is a condition which leaves the soul parched of hope. It can drive even the most gifted person to see nothing but failure. We need more than ourselves to adapt to this world of change and its power to alter life. The human community is a powerful and beautiful thing.

At the same time, our hearts long to hear a voice more powerful than a human one. A loud and wild voice which reminds the weak there is a strength holding them beyond their own understanding.  This voice, the voice of God, cracks like a bolt of lightning shaking a desert floor in a wild storm, but it does not destroy. Instead, it speaks of love to those who are lost and hiding.


Click to read Psalm 29

Reflection Questions:

  • What natural power do you fear?

  • When can fear be destructive? And, when can it be helpful?

  • Where do you hear the voice of God? And, what does it sound like?

  • What words do you long to hear from God?

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