Through the Desert

The one day the path turned a corner, and to her amazement and consternation she saw a great plain spread out beneath them.  As far as the eye could see there seemed to be nothing but desert, and endless expanse of sand dunes, with not a tree in sight.  The only objects breaking the monotony of the desert were strange, towering pyramids, rising above the sand dunes, hoary with age and grimly desolate.  To the horror of Much-Afraid, her two guides prepared to take the steep path downward.

She stopped dead and said to them. “We mustn’t go down there.  The Shepherd has called me to the High Places.  We must find some path which goes up, but certainly not down there.”  But they made signs to her that she was to follow them down the steep pathway to the desert below.

Much-Afraid looked to the left and the right, but though it seemed incredible, there was no way possible by which they could continue to climb upward.  The hill they were on ended abruptly at this precipice, and the rocky cliffs towered above them in every direction straight as walls with no possible foothold.

“I can’t go down there,” panted Much-Afraid, sick with shock and fear.  “He can never mean that – never!  He called me up to the High Places, and this is an absolute contradiction of all that He promised.”

She then lifted up her voice and called desperately, “Shepherd, come to me.  Oh, I need you, come and help me.”  In a moment he was there, standing before her.

“Shepherd,” she said despairingly, “I can’t understand this.  The guides you gave me say that we must go down there into that desert, turning right away from the High Places altogether.  You don’t mean that, do you?  You can’t contradict yourself.  Tell them we are not to go there, and show us another way.  Make a way for us, Shepherd, as you promised.”

He looked at her and answered very gently, “That is the path, Much-Afraid, and you are to go down there.”

“Oh no!” she cried.  “You can’t mean it.  You said if I would trust you, you would bring me to the High Places, and that path leads right away from them.  It contradicts all that you promised.”

“No,” said the Shepherd, “it is not a contradiction, only postponement for the best to become possible.”

Much Afraid felt as though he had stabbed her to the heart.  “You mean,” she said incredulously, “you really mean that I am to follow that path down and down into that wilderness and then over that desert, away from the mountains indefinitely?  Why” (and there was a sob of anguish in her voice) “it may be months, even years, before that path leads back to the mountains again.  O Shepherd, do you mean it is indefinite postponement?”

He bowed his head silently, and Much-Afraid sank on her knees at his feet, almost overwhelmed.  He was leading her away from her heart’s desire altogether and gave no promise at all as to when he would bring her back.  As she looked out over what seemed an endless desert, the only path she could see led farther and farther away from the High Places, and it was all desert.

Then he answered very quietly “Much-Afraid, do you love me enough to accept the postponement and the apparent contradiction of the promise, and go down there with me into the desert?”

She was still crouching at his feet, sobbing as if her heart would break, but now she looked up through her tears, caught his hand in hers and said, trembling, “I do love you, you know that I love you.  Oh, forgive me because I can’t help my tears.  I will go down with you into the wilderness, right away from the promise, if you really wish it.  Even if you cannot tell me why it has to be, I will go with you, for you know I do love you, and you have the right to choose for me anything you please.”

It was very early morning, and high above them, hanging in the sky over the silent expanse of desert, was a young crescent moon and the morning star shining like a brilliant jewel close beside it.  There Much-Afraid built her first altar on the mountains, a little pile of broken rocks, and then, with the Shepherd standing close beside her, she laid down on the altar her trembling, rebelling will…

Then they began the descent into the desert, and at the first step Much-Afraid felt a thrill of the sweetest joy and comfort surge through her, for she found that the Shepherd himself was going down with them.  She would not have Sorrow and Suffering as her only companions, but he was there too.

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Hinds Feet on High Places, Hannah Hurnard
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