In the Wilderness
01 June 1990

`The pursuit of wealth can be a sign of retreat: the world has you on the run.'By Alan Channer

You can feel it in the hyaenalaughing, starlight-dripping nights, amidst the cries and nosings and shadows of beings, moving in uncomprehended circles, following invisible lines, pursuing and pursued in a dance of the living and the dying.

In the embrace of beauty with pain and the blending of wonder with fear, the African bush convicts you with an overwhelming conclusion: that suffering is inescapable. Its messengers are relentless in the chase: they get you in the end.

We seem to pursue wealth up the beckoning avenues of comfort, but often it is suffering that we are fleeing. The pursuit of wealth can thus be a sign of retreat: the world has you on the run.

Yet suffering can be halted when you turn to advance upon it, as upon a buffalo, taking the risk that it will pound you into the dirt of total humiliation. You the unwanted, the unthought-of, lost in the wilderness (and nobody even noticed): you obliterated. In that moment of the greatest trial accepted, the highest grace is delivered.

Then, as the dawn breaks from the moonless night, the morning breeze seems to come upon your skin like a kiss from the soft-faced sunrise. You can't breathe without smiling. For who are we to deserve anything? When you feel that, you can only sink to your knees at the call to prayer of just being here: a call from joy to joy.

Dr Alan Channer is an English scientist doing research in Malawi.

Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0