Monday Muse: Dance in the Desert

For the Christmas-weary and the inspiration-drained, for the spiritually overwhelmed and the spiritually skeptical, the simple story of Dance in the Desert is a gift of exquisite imagination and wonder for the post-Christmas season.


Madeleine L’Engle’s Dance in the Desert finds the Holy Family in need of safe passage across the desert to Egypt, political refugees fleeing the violent wrath of Herod. They join a caravan, and when the travelers make camp one night along their journey, the perils of the desert draw near … and the impossible occurs:

Like Isaiah’s vision of the wild animals following a child, the beasts of the desert come to pay homage to the Holy Toddler. From the mouse to the lion, the eagle to the unicorn, every creature bows and dances in tribute to the refugee child.

The shadows and subtlety of Symeon Shimin’s artwork bring the wondrous story to life: the slow approach of a poisonous snake through the sand, the tender moment between Mary and the elusive unicorn. Together, Shimin and L’Engle continue the tale of holy mystery that began in a crude stable one starry night.

Dance in the Desert is a book to read and savor after the thrill of Christmas has waned and the food in the fridge has dwindled to leftovers, after family and friends are gone and the drear of winter settles into one’s soul again, in the quiet aftermath of the holiday when mystery and joy seem fleeting. Read and see: the One who inspires the desert to dance!

L’Engle, Madeleine. Dance in the Desert.
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1988.

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