The Great City Become a Desert – A Hermit’s Reflection for Lent

If cities have been built (and are being built) in deserts, so can the power of the desert absorb cities, returning them after many centuries to the substance from which they were first made. The great symbolic example is Megiddo – once a great city state, now an archaeological site, and a symbol of the end of the age.
megiddo 1
This reminds us of the impermanence of the city (actual and metaphorical) and of the eventual dissolution of all worldly triumphs. The world’s tallest building is the Burj Khalifa in the desert of Dubai with a height of 829.8m. It has conquered the desert – for a time.
Burj_Khalifa
Christians are not called upon to strive towards great earthly achievements – the fate of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4–9) should be a lesson in that regard. That our cities turn to deserts should not be a matter of concern: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. “[2 Corinthians 5:1]

“Ozymandias” (1818) by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) provides a powerful image in this regard:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
desert foundation
Similarly, the poem “Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936 [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recessional_%28poem%29%5D calls to mind the transitory nature of human achievements. It is truly ironic that it is almost universally sung on occasions like Armistice Day as a hymn of victory! Yet it declares:

“Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!”
citydesert 2
All that we have achieved or built, all our triumphs and accomplishments will fade and return to the Desert. Vast cathedrals and huge monasteries no less than high towers of commerce. During Lent we are called to reflect in the Desert, and to let go of “all our pomp of yesterday” and “All valiant dust that builds on dust”. We might well cry with Ozymandias: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” And yet “boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away”. We alone remain, and seek to build “an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

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