The following films all have something in common: Greed (1924) Bitter Victory (1967) Ice Cold in Alex (1958) The Good, Bad & Ugly (1966) Walkabout (1971)

Two are war films. Two are about the American West. They are set in three different continents. Four have famous male leads with only one with a famous female. So what’s the answer? Here’s a clue from the theme of Walkabout (1971):

In Australia when an Aborigine (sic) man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive.... The Aborigines (sic) call it the Walkabout. This is the story of a Walkabout.

What do all the films have in common? They are all set in deserts.

‘The way of the desert’ is a theme which is being explored at the church through the lead up to Easter. In the distant past Christians called ‘The Desert Fathers’ lived a nomadic life in the area around the south of Egypt. These Fathers were sought out by people for their wisdom and desert ways which helped them focus on God.

I wonder where we look today for such wisdom and connection to God? The desert is usually seen as somewhere negative, an arid time in our lives and a place of emptiness. It is though in those moments that, when all is stripped back, we find ourselves looking at events like Easter with a different type of focus.

One thing I have noticed about films which are set in deserts is that there is usually a moment in the film where the lead character gets lost. They end up walking alone and they all seem to do the same thing. In a situation where there are no compass bearings and few landmarks they all seem to walk in circles. I assumed that this was simply a director’s film-making device to show that lost people in deserts go round in circles. How wrong I was.

The reason for walking in circles in deserts is to do with something called ‘loopy paths’ as the changing sense of what a straight path looks like. “With every step, a small deviation is likely added to a person's cognitive sense of what's straight, and these deviations accumulate to send that individual veering around in ever tighter circles as time goes on.” The impact is that people will “curve around in loops as tight as 20 metres in diameter, all the while believing they are walking in straight lines.”

The journal Experimental Brain Research (July 2011) suggests that the vestibular (balance- maintaining) and propioceptive (body awareness) systems which usually combine to enable spatial updating are affected. This leads to an inner ear malfunction in the absence of visual clues.

The article points out that “For most of us, the subtle leftward or rightward bias of our sense of direction would only rear its head if we were trying to find our way through a dense forest, or, perhaps, blindfolded by pirates and made to walk the plank”.

But what if our lives are spiritual deserts? What if we are living life as if Easter Sunday has almost no meaning? What if the deepest reality is spiritual and we are ignoring the waypoints and landmarks? I’d suggest that the danger is that we end up going through life walking in 66 degree circles. Old patterns reinforced, we may fail to see changes that are possible, our focus may become on the next desert moment rather than the straight path.

The Old Testament puts it like this:

“Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4.