In the new novel Circling the Sun, author Paula McClain describes a scene where Beryl Markham and Denys Finch Hatton (yes, the same Denys in Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa) walk through alkali flats.
“… the white crust like a frosted layer of salt that rose in powder when your boots punched through. We wore chalk everywhere––up to our knees, in the creases of our fingers clenching the rifle strap, down in the cavity between my breasts, and in my mouth too. I couldn’t keep it out and stopped trying …”
The scene made me think of Psalm 63:1,
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsts for thee, my flesh longs for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is…
An image forms of what it feels like to walk through any sustained dry spell, a period of questioning or testing, when the desert of not knowing stretches beyond, unending.
The grit. The taste. The blankness of white.
Searing heat. Waves rising, rippling, taunting. Imagination dries up. And all the while the torment of not knowing.
Not knowing how long.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.