It is barren, dry, as symbol of scarcity, and... of being deserted, which would be the typical ego projection, namely feeling deserted shifts the blame away from us to some deserter (who we also make up).
The ego, which IS the thought of separation, majors in separation anxiety, and abandonment feelings, and uses this strategy to project the guilt and responsibility for its decision to separate onto another, be it God, a father or mother, spouse, etc. The parade goes on and on.
As Ken Wapnick reports in "Absence from Felicity," Helen at one point experienced Jesus as saying: "What you do with a desert is you leave." Clearly that is in line with the notion that he is teaching us that his Kingdom is NOT of this world.
Meanwhile, here is another interesting use of the symbol of the desert in the Course, in this case the idea is letting go of the (self-imposed) limitations of the separation and letting God's love into our Little Garden (which is a desert as long as we're separated). To put it differently, the point here is giving up the separation thought which created the desert in the first place, and letting the sun shine in.:
Love knows no bodies, and reaches to everything created like itself. 2 Its total lack of limit
The Thought of God surrounds your little kingdom, waiting at the barrier you built to come inside and shine upon the barren ground. 2 See how life springs up everywhere! 3 The desert becomes a garden, green and deep and quiet, offering rest to those who lost their way and wander in the dust. 4 Give them a place of refuge, prepared by love for them where once a desert was. 5 And everyone you welcome will bring love with him from Heaven for you. 6 They enter one by one into this holy place, but they will not depart as they had come, alone. 7 The love they brought with them will stay with them, as it will stay with you. 8 And under its beneficence your little garden will expand, and reach out to everyone who thirsts for living water, but has grown too weary to go on alone.
Go out and find them, for they bring your Self with them. 2 And lead them gently to your quiet garden, and receive their blessing there. 3 So will it grow and stretch across the desert, leaving no lonely little kingdoms locked away from love, and leaving you inside. 4 And you will recognize yourself, and see your little garden gently transformed into the Kingdom of Heaven, with all the Love of its Creator shining upon it.
In the Bible, the symbolism is clearly of the desert as a depiction of the emptiness of the ego system. One famous passage is the temptation in the desert at the outset of Jesus's ministry, reported in Mk 1:12-13 as follows:
12 And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
The details are in Mt. 4:1-11, and Lk. 4:1-13, where the story is expanded to the three temptations, which we could paraphrase as follows:
1) making bread out of stones - the temptation to make something living out of someting dead (ego), i.e. investing in the illusion,
2) all the kingdoms of the world - the ego's "everything" is really nothing, this means letting go of any hope in the ego system and the world: "And you will think, in glad astonishment, that for all this you gave up
3) self-destructive behavior - the temptation of tempting fate, an appeal to the ego's grandiosity,
Why do these temptations arise "in the desert?" Very simply because it is in the experience of the desolation of the ego system the temptation arises to "do" something about it, to make something of it. Jesus's answer however repeatedly shows the other choice, of leaving the desert, rather than trying to fix it up. Or in terms of the Course, the point is to not take the empty(!) promises of the ego seriuously any longer, therein lies our sanity.
With the Course we would understand that this means not asceticism (rejecting the world), but rather it means withdrawing our expectation from the world, which has nothing to offer. It means not to expect our salvation from the world. In fact the false expectations of the world are simply the illusory projections of the ego system, which we say goodbye to in choosing to follow Jesus. Which needs to be seen in the context of the Course's "being in the world but not of it."
This is one area where early Christianity went wrong in a variety of different ways, in rejecting the world as evil. With the Course in hand we would start to see that the world is not the problem, but our expectations are the problem, and "being in the world but not of it," in that sense means simply not placing our faith in the promises of the world. "Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world." (ACIM:T-21.in.1:7) Thus the path of wisdom is not to take the world so seriously, as we are realize it is not our reality. "This place of darkness is not your home." (ACIM:T-20.VI.7:5)
In the Old Testament the story of salvation in Exodus is again portrayed as a trek through the desert, and the symbolism is equally clear. Most importantly perhaps the path is always one through the desert to get out of the desert, which in the Course is generally reflected as Jesus's constant admonitions to look at the ego with him. The path of the world always is to ignore or deny the hidden purpose of the ego system, the path of salvation always is to look at it or confront it, but with the love of Jesus beside us, rather than the judgment of the ego, which would simply shift the blame.
The important first step of "looking" entails a joining with Jesus, "above the battleground," as the Course calls it, this means to look at our lives with Jesus' "eyes" rather than the ego. By joining him in the quiet center of the storm, we can look at the raging of the ego system with him, which means we're looking from a place in our mind (non-duality) at our life in the world (duality), but choose another interpretation, which always starts with the "little willingness," to entertain the notion that the ego could be wrong, and to ask our Inner Teacher for "another way," no different than Helen and Bill in that fateful moment when Bill expressed that question and Helen agreed to help him find it. The way out won't become visible unless we're willing to look, and go for help from our right mind rather than our wrong mind. And only from that place "above the battleground" can we learn to reinterpret the world in a different light. That shift in perception is the miracle which gave the Course its name.
Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.