Rivers in the Desert

by Kathryn Higinbotham


In March, I spent a week backpacking through the canyons of southern Utah. The entire experience fostered a sense of wonder: I rappelled down a 125-foot canyon wall and slept under the stars. But one day was particularly difficult; it was the hottest day of the week and the weight of my sixty-pound backpack bruised my shoulders and hips.

And then, when my team stopped for lunch, I spotted a bright yellow flower growing in the midst of rocks, sand, and the branches of a long-dead plant. I was delighted to stumble across this improbable beauty thriving in a harsh environment. I hadn’t even seen the color yellow for days. Desert plants must be highly efficient, so this delicate, beautiful flower was entirely unexpected.

Desert flowers, as I later learned, signal the proximity of water in the driest places on earth. They are a beacon alerting dehydrated animals to the life-giving hydration nearby. I can’t help but find a metaphor.

In Isaiah 43:19, the prophet Isaiah relays a message of hope from God: “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”

The desert often functions as a biblical metaphor of solitude, hardship, hopelessness. And yet, even in our most barren moments, God creates “rivers in the desert,” unforeseen hope and nourishment. And, like the yellow flower, he gives us moments of delight in the middle of deserts.

Kathryn Higinbotham believes in loving as Christ loved, working for justice, and reading everything. In the fall, she will start her first semester as a Literature, Media, and Communications student at Georgia Tech.