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Craving Desert

I remember the childhood strategy to spelling a tricky word: “Why is dessert spelled with two ‘s’s’? Because you always want two servings.”

Well, I’d like to spell desert with two “s’s.”

“I want two servings of desert, please,” I ask with outstretched plate.

I want two servings of quiet.

I want two servings of reflection.

Yes, I want to be cut off from the abundance of modern life, and fully connected to the thin place the desert can offer, to enter into a double offering of closeness to God.

Double offering of stillness.

Double offering of reality.

Double offering of honesty.

How did life become so fast, so frenzied? I yearn for the stillness that the desert brings.

The air is still, the people are still, the hills are still, the vegetation is still, the dirt is still.


Some look at the desert and see death and stagnation.

I look at the desert and see stopping and quiet and reflection and pause and breathing.

There I hear my respiration. I feel my heart beating. In the stillness, my thoughts are free to move outside of me – outside of self. No longer preoccupied, I see creation; birds, bugs, animals. The stuff that is always going on around me without my notice. The peaceful rhythm that nature is.

The world is full of man-crafted devices, of machines – moving, whirring, spinning, moving, going, getting, gaining.

My body is a God-crafted device, made for life in a garden; a place where “green things thrive.” Where I am needed to attend and to notice. To see, and to experience the masterpiece of a flower, of the complexities of a bee, of the delicate intricacies of a butterfly.

So, will I answer the call to retreat? The call of the wilderness? Will I intentionally move into the thin space? Will I approach the veil and allow myself to be still and just breathe? Quietly? Within the beating of my own heart? My heart, a soft and fleshy 7 pounds of blob. A blob that God causes to contract as it pulses and pushes blood through my fleshy frame, my weak, easily damaged frame.

I will answer the call. I will make my bed, put my papers in order, fill my gas-efficient auto with fuel and travel to the mountains – intentionally moving away from the world. I will go further up and further in. Why? Why this counter-cultural move? Because I am called. I have set my heart to listening, osculta, listening with the ear of my heart, and so I hear, and so I must obey.

I have lived ignoring that call; years of simply listening to myself, and to the world. I should have ignored the world. I listened because expectations compelled me. Inside I knew I wasn’t smart enough to know how to lead myself – and now I rest in knowing that I am not.

I have searched and I have found the One I can trust. Rather I have been found by Him. He was calling me in my search. He is the One I can follow, He cannot disappoint, for He knows not how.

So, deep in listening, I have no other option but to follow.

He calls me to the desert.

A place with two “s’s” to my mind.

Two “s’s” because I desire a double helping of the fullness there.

The fullness of the thinness.

The world offers a fullness that is empty.

The desert offers a thinness that is full.

Full of Him – empty of me.

Thick with meaning – devoid of chaos.

Quivering with potential – but only potential, until I answer.

Will I answer?

Will I enter?




    Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. Ps 42:11

The psalmist is speaking to the “living part” of himself, his soul. The living part of his being is cast down and heavy – disquieted. I understand this.

If this “disquiet” is a part of the Psalmist’s experience, a byproduct of fears and oppression, why does the modern person become concerned when feeling this way? As though we’ve done something wrong; that we haven’t had sufficient “good thoughts” or maintained a positive attitude.  Yet heaviness and disquietness are the soul’s natural reaction to life’s difficult situations.

This passage appears to be an internal discussion between the writer and himself. I benefit from the progression of thought expressed.

“Why are thou cast down, O my soul?” He is surprised at his own heaviness.

Then he encourages himself, “Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him.”

As if to say, “Why are you sad, take heart, something will come of this difficulty, something worthy of praise. God has proven himself in the past, He will not absent himself this time, take courage – be still.”

This psalm speaks to me in two ways; first, that to be heavy or disquieted is a natural state of my soul in response to fears and worries. Second, that when life causes me worry and distress, I should encourage myself by remembering that God hasn’t failed me and that when the turmoil has passed I will have something to be thankful for.

Counterintuitive? Yes. But that is the point.

and the Spirit … like a Dove

dove2Today’s lectionary reading from the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark – the Baptism of Christ – has reminded me of a moment I had while visiting the Sienna Prayer Center in Ventura, California. It was a Holy Week retreat and I spent hours in the covenant gardens observing all types of birds and other small wild-life.

Stretched out on a lawn, I had occasion to leisurely watch a beautiful dove. Her efforts were awkward as she began the task of lifting her resting body from atop a nearby tree. She labored successfully under great efforts to a spot which seemed to be right overhead. With nothing to perch upon I wondered why she headed upward.

As she reached her destination there was a brief moment at which she became weightless. Her wings were fully stretched, a magnificently symmetrical wingspan. Her strong tail feathers fanned out wide, she was completely relaxed as she hung effortlessly for a moment in the air. Her gaze shifted to another tree, and with a slight but deliberate movement of her head she let her body hurl and fall freely to someplace hidden deep with another tree.

If Christ had been this bird’s destination – the Holy Spirit descending upon Him as a dove – at His baptism, it would have been quite a dramatic and shocking scene. Not the ethereal, lukewarm images of rays of light and brightness. No, it would have appeared more like a great force of intentional movement from heaven toward a man emerging from under the water.

This vision has awakened in me a curiosity of other word-images in Scripture. Might THIS vision of a dove’s movement tell a different story about my Lord’s baptism? And might this different story produce a more mysterious understanding of the active agent of the Trinity in my life?

Visiting My Godparents

As my flight began its final approach into John Wayne Airport, the financial concerns that eluded me while visiting family began to creep back into my thoughts. I was determined not to let anxiety ruin the four short days I had just enjoyed on the Bayou Teche with my godparents. The calm cadence of their lives, the warmth of their southern hospitality and the abundance of their resources had left an impression on my quick paced, hurried heart. They didn’t seem to have much money, but they certainly were rich in a way unfamiliar to me.

They have 20 or so chickens that give them fresh eggs each morning. They tend two large gardens that provide them more than their “5 essential servings of fruits and vegetables per day”. They drove me through fields and fields of healthy hay crops that yield them hundreds of bales every year; and the grand finale, a visit to the “other women” in my godfather’s life, his 30 head of cattle. He checks on them daily to repair fences, fill up water barrels and occasionally moving them to greener pastures – literally.

All through our travels he waved to neighbors and introduced me to long-time friends. Saturday I was treated to a delightful Cajun supper with many of these folk down at the bayou’s edge. We laughed all night, entertained by the stories of his war buddies and dancing a bit to the zydeco music blaring from an old radio with a wire coat-hanger antenna.

Each day my godparents got up early, finishing their chores in the cool of the morning. When I awoke the coffee was waiting for me and so were they, sitting in tandem rocking chairs in the front room. Neither one in hurry, they chatted about a sick neighbor or the new garden around the church grounds. Gentle, kind words shared. Their home is humble, yet sufficient. I was treated to a walking tour of the walls; covered with framed memories of family milestones, veteran reunions, and retirement parties.

I saw the exchange of money only once during my visit, at a roadside café. A special delicacy,  something they didn’t have at home; fried alligator. Aside from that lunch, everything we did or ate came from their abundance of resources. I understood they didn’t have a lot of money and I also understood they were very content. Two things that are mutually exclusive in the hurried chaos of southern California where money equals happiness.

Now, I don’t think that the secret to finding happiness is building a chicken coup or growing your own vegetables. No, I think the answer is deeper – inside. My godparents are content not because they are rich in money, but they are rich in perspective. They have what they need, they enjoy and care for those in their life and they know that the key to happiness is tied to something more important than money.

A change in perspective – is it that simple? Perhaps it is.

Roadside Memorial

The thin marine layer acts as filter, holding back the colors of morning. All that is left is a vacant landscape all in grey tones. A normally vibrant view is reduced to a silhouette of hills and buildings. We approach the place. A place most of us travel again and again – part of our rut. The traffic is slow and purposeful. We want to see the place. We take our time. This morning, the first day of business traffic through this thin stretch of Pacific Coast Highway.

A sudden surprise; everything is swept and clear. Expectations were to see the spot as it was; glass and shards of metal strewn around, a flicker indicating the presence of a traffic flare. But as we pass we can see no evidence of the damage done just two days earlier. If one hadn’t heard – one would never know.

Then it is seen, the humble roadside memorial. Against the city codes, it stands “permitted” today; an exception to the rules marks the spot where 3 souls were separated from their bodies.

“Too soon” some would lament … yet not, He always knew what the news would be that day. As though already published He had awareness of the headlines and the report we would hear;

    a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s and his mother in her 60s.

Too soon? Perhaps by our standards, but the number of their days was already known to Him at their birth.

Three spots of flower-filled color, three clear, fresh candles. They pierce the grey tones of the morning and remind us to live as though this day were our last.


The golden trees in the southeast ridge of the retreat center are alive with deep green leaves. At first they don’t appear to be as tall as they were that autumn of my first retreat here, then I realize they’ve all been “topped.” Where once graceful tappers reached heavenward, there are flat, harsh cuts that stunt them.

A somewhat inconsistent yet frequent wind strains their branches as it gusts up and over the ridge behind them. I realize their “topping” was for protection, preventing them from growing too tall and snapping under the force of the gusts. This action by a master tree man intentionally forces new growth down lower on the tree’s trunk. The new growth providing the needed leaves to soak in the warmth of the sun, in turn strengthening the trunk of the tree.

I imagine I am like one of these trees. They teach me about my recent season of sorrow and pain. Has God indeed topped me? For my own good? Has my suffering prevented me from becoming too tall, too thin and too weak? Did I need renewed strength within me?

I sit and watch the unpredictable wind gust in and around the trees. The fresh mountain air is alive. The trees sway gracefully where the wind would take them, but they are not in danger of breaking. I yearn for that grace and welcome new  strength in places I thought I had already grown through. Thank you Lord for this vision.

Perhaps as God watches me, I already have a hint of that grace. I struggle inside and cry out to him, yet I have not broken. I bend and sway with each twist and turn of the ever changing gusts of wind in my life.

Help me Lord to be flexible and ever dependent up on you whatever you allow to befall me.


Dizzy my mind has been of late. A whirlwind of shifting thoughts and feelings.

I sit – still, yet I am not.

I feel as if all the particles that make up my body, might at any moment pull apart. Leaving where I once was a heap of the smaller pieces my body is made from.

Another voice calls to me,

Look up, see higher things. The blue of the sky the softness of the clouds.

And so I answer the call, gazing upward.

I behold beauty that only One can orchestrate, symmetry in the world around me. The trees near me are perfectly outlined by soft white clouds miles behind them. Every bump in their outline perfectly haloed as if by an aura. Each contour echoed in pattern. Yet this pattern can only be seen from exactly where I sit.

A whisper through the chaos,

I am in control. All things are ordered aright. 

Mountain Top Wisdom

Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.

With great wisdom Aslan encourages the little girl. “Here, in my presence you will know and understand, but the air down below will become thick and confuse your mind.”

This has been my own experience, drawing away to be with God. Seeking Him, intentionally in a “thin place.” The richness of meeting him, moments of crystal clarity. Then the obligatory returning to the world.

The air does become thick – quickly. Oh the burdens of life. They make His lessons thin, elusive. This doesn’t negate the mountain top experience, it only reinforces the need for those moments and the urgency of practicing what you learn there. To live with the assurance of those things which you know to be true, to record them deeply, to know them by heart.

“Nothing else matters,” nothing else.