“The sands have shifted! The sands have shifted!” Walid shouted as he hurriedly drew back the curtain of the buryuut hajar. “It will be well to change our course, Alim, everything looks different. What I once knew, I know no more. We cannot know where we are; we cannot know where we are going. The storms, the harmattan winds; the landscape is utterly different. How are we to navigate?”
Abdul-Alim followed Walid out to survey. They had set their buryuut hajar on the southwest border of the Erg Iguidi under the veil of darkness the night past. Now, in nascent light of the morning sun, the sea of sand that lay as the route before them was more fully revealed. Indeed, Alim saw, the sands had shifted. The landscape looked utterly different from what he remembered.
This was not the first time that Alim and Walid had been in the Erg Iguidi; but it was their first time there together. They had both accompanied their clans’ trade caravans through these parts many times before as children. Walid, who came from the southern part of the Sahara, had learned to rely upon his memory of the way things were to navigate in the present. “I have been out scouting,” he said anxiously to Alim, “I can’t recall anything. The dunes are not the same; the rojom markers are gone, or covered up. I was so sure that I knew the meaning of this place. I was certain that my footsteps would lead me where I wanted to go. But now, Alim…” he paused and shaded his eyes with his hand as he peered eastward, “now, this world has changed. I cannot find the Tuwat.”
Abdul-Alim listened to Walid’s near frantic chatter. He listened, but was not disturbed. Abdul-Alim had learned to navigate by a deeper wisdom. These sands, he knew, had always shifted. “You may read the sands for signs of the present state of the Erg Iguidi,” his father had instructed him, “but not to navigate; not to lead you to the life-giving waters of the Tuwat.” He closed his eyes.
One can only navigate the particulars of this land, he remembered, by first orienting oneself with the constants that were not part of it. “Al-shams by day; keep Al-jidi off your left shoulder by night,” he whispered to himself. These celestial bodies transcended the shifting landscape, providing bearings for the land’s deeper contours that lay hidden beneath the sandy veneer. He did not need to rely on his own memory or on his own limited sight. He had learned the way of his people. He was guided along the deeper path.
“Walid,” he at last replied, “there is no need for this mad prating. Are you so distracted? We will move as we usually do, slow and steady, and make camp before the heat of the day. A new course? Whither, Walid? We need the waters of the Tuwat. Come, I know the way. Our journey will not be the less treacherous for it. We will still face puzzlement…still we will encounter adversity and hardship. No, Walid, my people’s wisdom does not make the journey easy; it makes it possible.”
“Things have changed, yes,” he said as he turned toward the camels. “But this is nothing different. Follow, Walid, for the way of the past is our way still.”
On two aphorisms:
II. Christians need not fear the changing veneer of our own times. Christians need to fear losing the Divine wisdom and instruction that has guided their fellows through changed and changing cultures for millennia.
This short story originally appeared at Conciliar Post. Used with permission.