Excerpt from Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
"You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty."
Reaching sixty feet tall and sometimes living two hundred years, saguaro cactus are the icons of the American desert. Their stately arms stretching to the sky, these "sentinels of the desert" show up in almost every Hollywood Western ever made - even if the movie is set in Texas or California, far beyond the saguaros' range in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico.
The scientific name for saguaros is carnegiea gigantea. The name fits, since these "giant cactus" do in fact tower over other desert plants, half again as tall as trees like palo verdes or mesquites.
But saguaros grow very slowly, only about an inch a year. A fifty-old-tree is four feet high. The giant cactus are also completely dependent on other plants, particularly palo verde trees, for the first several decades of life. Although the adult saguaro produces hundreds of seeds, it's only the seedlings that take root underneath a palo verde that can survive the desert sun. Without the shade and moisture provided by a "nurse tree," a young saguaro can't make it.
"You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High," writes the Psalmist, "who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'" The writer evokes the sheltering image of a bird's wings for the ways God shields and protects us. Had the Psalmist lived in the Sonoran Desert, perhaps he or she would have written of a graceful palo verde protecting a baby saguaro. Whether the image is a strong eagle, a mother hen or a desert "nurse tree," the truth is the same. There is One who shelters us in our dry and weary times.
Thank you, God, for protecting us and giving us what we need to grow, even in the hard or dry times. Amen.
About the Author
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Worship for Vital Congregations, published by The Pilgrim Press.