Deep Unto Deep
By Nita Gilger
When I think of deepness, I usually think of the ocean. It is so vast and seems so very powerful to me. I love to go to the ocean but never fancied myself to be a sailor except in a canoe or a fishing boat on a good lake or river where the fish are biting. But there is another image of deepness that is relatively new to me. In January, pre-pandemic, we went to Tucson, AZ and hiked the Saguaro National Park. It was the perfect time of year to hike since the heat was not a problem. I would like to go back in April to see the saguaro cacti in bloom.
Saguaros are a study in endurance and depth. They can live to be a 150-200 years old. They usually get around 40-feet tall but some years ago one was measured at 78 feet. They normally don't grow their arms until they are 75-100 years old and some do not even grow the famous branches. The plants can hold a large amount of water which it stores up for drought. When fully hydrated a large saguaro can weigh between 3200-4800 lbs.
When it comes to depth, the saguaros have a very large root network that can extend to 98 ft. long with taproots of up to 3.3 feet deep. The ribs inside the saguaro are as long as the cactus and are like hardwood. The indigenous people used those wood spines to build structures in times gone by. The spines are super strong.
Stability can come with the spiritual practice of staying put. It is this image of commitment, of staying rooted despite changes around us. Laura Swan, a Benedictine Sister, says, “The desert journey is one inch long and many miles deep.”
The saguaro might only grow .25 inches a year but all the while it is growing this massive root network underneath. If it is anything, the saguaro is stable and strong-- deep and enduring. The saguaro is patient with time and slow growth.
Author and minister, Jan Richardson says spiritual stability is not just about staying in one place. It is about finding something worth giving ourselves to for a long, long time---a place, a community, a person, a path--and in that, to grow deeper in relationship with the God who dwells there.
When looking for ways to stay a while--to go deep unto deep--to have patience, the saguaro is a good and worthy teacher. The saguaro demonstrates patience and enduring, deep, stable growth. The saguaro needs to have the right conditions. It would not grow in the beautiful state of Maine where the snows are so very deep and long lasting. That is a different kind of endurance and depth. I rather doubt I could get a saguaro to grow here at Possum Kingdom Lake because the soil is rock bound and not all that sandy. No, the saguaro needs the desert, the heat, the space, the sand. Those are its conditions for growth and depth. It would seem that setting up the “perfect” conditions for our lives is of paramount importance. But is that really necessary?
Fortunately, God is not bound by place or even the conditions of our lives. Spirit can thrive anywhere, anytime-- where ever It is invited in. The possibilities are endless. And, while the ocean and the Sonora Desert are great metaphors for depth and stability, they are not the only places God lives. I dare say in all of our days and places, God is with us. In a time when our normal activities and travel plans are turned upside down, we still can draw from the strength and stability of Spirit. The important thing is to Be Still and know that God is God. The saguaros teach us that truth rather well. It is in those moments that we can commune and grow in ways that can sometimes surprise us yet beautifully shape us.
Prayer: Deep unto deep is your Spirit O’ God. Help me to be still and stable as I seek to grow in your grace, wisdom, and love—especially in desert moments. Amen.