God and the desert

In other news from the Los Angeles Times Godbeat, the paper recently published a story about an ecumenical effort to preserve California's deserts. The article was written by Louis Sahagun, an old LAT vet who preceded Mitchell Landsberg as the paper's religion reporter, though Sahagun only a handful of religion stories, and only one that anyone felt worth noting, during that stint. I never understood why, though I just felt like he wasn't a fan of the Godbeat and was merely plugging a hole left when Larry Stammer retired.

But here Sahagun, who also spent some time covering environmental issues, digs into this story about desert preservation. And he explores it as a religion reporter would.

Moses met the Lord in the form of a burning bush on a mountain in the Sinai desert. Jesus prayed in the desert for 40 days before beginning his ministry. The prophet Muhammad meditated in a cave on the desert mountain of Hira, where the Angel Gabriel recited the Koran to him.

Gazing across a broad, sandy gulch where the Whitewater River carried its cargo of silt and snowmelt past fortress-like sandstone walls, Petra Mallais-Sternberg, pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in San Bernardino, said, "The basic elements of my faith are all around us.

"I see flowing baptismal waters, and boulders that stand for the cornerstones of my faith," she said. Pointing toward a gentle slope above the riverbed edged with willows and creosote, she said, "They are fruits of the earth."

There are, of course, many, many more examples of the desert playing a prominent role in the holy books of the Abrahamic faiths. That was the world our religious prophets and patriarchs lived in. (The Mojave Cross was not part of Christianity's past, nor since having been stolen is it a part of the present.)

As for other religions, this story doesn't address their traditions -- apparently because they are not a part of the save-the-desert coalition.

The coalition's members -- churches, synagogues, mosques and cultural organizations mainly in the Inland Empire -- are linked by the spiritual connections between their local desert landscapes and the parched sacred grounds that have nurtured some of the world's great religions.

Their mission is to spur more congregations to take on issues affecting desert lands, vistas and waterways and help provide what Burklo described as "a new dimension and depth" to the conversations about them. The areas of interest include alternative energy development, mining, recreation, military exercises, transportation corridors and proposed national monuments.

From there, Sahagun discusses the much-discussed green religion movement. In a sense, this desert preservation effort is a microcosm of larger religious efforts to be better stewards of the world God gave us.

I don't really have much to add. I was simply struck by how this story included all the details and info I hoped it would include. And, sometimes, that in itself is news.

PHOTO: The Old Woman rock at Joshua Tree, via the public domain

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