The silhouetted earth tones of the cement stairs, rising up into a walkway, heading into the desert mountains, was rendered extraordinary against the backdrop of foreboding sky. The heavy grey clouds stretched over my head into the distance, reaching beyond to the sharp peaks of black mountains. Short spiked bushes and small copses of weathered trees, their leaves a foreign dusty green, were scattered along both sides of the walkway. A flowering tree, to the left, shocked the muted landscape with it’s bright covering of pink.
On that December day I stood for a long time, looking up the stairs, undone by the emotion of the sky, the elemental beauty of the storm rolling in.
“This is so rare,” My uncle said, clearly amazed. “We never have thunderstorms! You’re getting to see the landscape in a way that most people never do.”
And such a gift it was.
The clouds boiled overhead, shadow and light pushing and pulling their way across the ground. I could have stayed in that spot for an hour, waiting for the next act of the Theater of Weather to play it’s part, ever-changing, clouds rolling tumultuously overhead, throwing the remarkable scene into yet another unearthly tableau of beauty and strangeness.
But the tour kept moving.
It was my first visit to Phoenix and Taliesin West, the summer home of the gifted and famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright who, despite the great esteem he is held in as a craftsman was, by all accounts, morally lacking and quite disappointing in relationships and business. (I do so love historical tours and ALL of their recounting of dirty past deeds.)
So, in short, Frank Lloyd-Wright was human.
But there was something about this place.
Taliesin West was built to be an organic part of the landscape. The compound of low buildings rise up from the ground in sweeping lines, constructed of stone and canvas; the colors echo those of the desert around them, rich umbers and sand. Natural light imbues the architecture, dynamically bringing the outside in. The details of design are complex and familiar, curves echoing the tail of a gekko, patterns reminding you of the towering saguaro.
The desert drew me in. It always has.
The sobriety and other-worldly complexity of it, the fragility of the eco system and hardiness of the life that finds its home there. The colors and hues, the textures, the majesty and silence, the stark stunning beauty of it. The loneliness. The vastness.
I meandered around Taliesin West with my group, listening to the impassioned account of the guide who, clearly, loved both the Lloyd-Wrights and their dreams and ideals. This place had been home to a community of idealists, people who headed out into the desert to design, to build a home with their own hands, driven by the dreams of a Dreamer. They would learn from the earth. They would Fellowship. And they would create.
The tale of the guide and the sky and the stillness of the brooding air filled the place with a strange feeling of mystery and beckoning. I was intrigued by how my heart began to ache. Every step I took, passing sandstone walls and paths worn down by generations of feet, I could feel the memory of the people who had made this place, like an imprint in the sand.
I understood them. I felt their longing.
I could imagine the voices of people working, laughing, calling to one another as they learned how stones fit together and food was cooked over fires. I could feel their emotions as they built something from nothing; whether they did it well or were themselves so full of vice it was doomed to fail didn’t matter. They longed for something and I felt myself longing for that same thing as I walked the paths and climbed the stairs under an impassioned sky.
I longed for kinship, to be known, to be a part of something that mattered to the people who were a part of it. I felt, in some way, that I was walking in a place where My People had walked.
I looked out into the desert, feeling the kinship of creative dreamers and the Lord whispered the name of that ache in my gut...
This was an ache to have a place, to be understood and seen, valued, integral to a community dream.
We all long to Belong with every fibre of our beings. Even if life and pain have numbed our longings, jaded and warped us, we all still have it. If you look for it, even in the most shut-down and closed-off, you can see it in the way that we seek out others, hungrily, looking for a place where we fit in.
The immutable truth, seared into our core, is that we were created for relationship. We were created in the image of a triune God who is in perfect fellowship with Himself. We are an overflow of that love. We were made by a God who loves family, who wanted children. We need intimacy and vulnerability. We need to be known.
We need to be Belong.
When these things are lacking, when we are disconnected and isolated, everything in life is so much harder. More than that, we lose heart.
As I took in the beauty of Taliesen West, surprised by how deeply my heart was provoked, I thought on how difficult it can be to find Our People, Our Tribe. It seems like there are more things moving against relationship then for it…lack of time, a digital world, a culture turned inward, the broken relationships of our past, our dysfunctional ways of relating, on and on.
Sometimes it seems like we give up before we even get started.
As we finished up our tour, leaving behind a theater covered in red velvet and a conference room decorated for an elegant graduation ceremony, we passed under a low stone door out into...Sunshine! Extraordinary golden light splashed down on the grounds, clearing the sky of emotion, revealing a deep blue as striking as the tempter tantrum of grey that had passed before.
I stood on the stairs, gazing down at the canvas and stone lines of the compound and it occurred to me, community is meant to be organic. It is meant to grow up out of the ground like Taliesin West, birthed by the coming together of people who are glad to be together. You see, the great mystery of Belonging starts as we are Known by one person...because the bedrock of community is friendship.
This beautiful place around me was created out of the friendship of a few people. Their friendship gave meaning to others, who were drawn to their dreams. And friendship...oh my...friendship is one of the most important things we get to walk out in our lives. One of the sweetest, one of the hardest, one of the most precious.
For the next few months we are going to be looking at Friendship together, on the podcast and the blog, looking at as many aspects as we can think of! It’s probably going to provoke us. And it’s also going to stir our hearts! We’re going to feel that deep ache for Belonging, for sweet intimacy, to be Known and loved, even in our brokenness.
Don’t be afraid of that desire.
Our Father, our Friend, the one who sticks closer than a brother, has something really good for all of us in this. ALL OF US!
I drove away from Taliesin West both sad and inspired. By some standards, the dreams of those people failed. And yet, I believe that any place that can provoke such longing in my heart is not without merit. At the very least it gave me courage to keep looking, keep asking, keep longing and dreaming for friendship and belonging, birthed out of the heart of God.
Today, I pray the same for all of you!