24 08 2012













May you find the Sanctuary you seek…

whatever form it takes…

for whatever reason you seek…






(Photos: The National Cathedral & Pendle Hill Retreat Center)

“The Presence of Slowing”

29 06 2012




In his book, The Wisdom of Wilderness, Gerald May talks about “The Presence of Slowing.”


This presence cannot be grasped nor contained;

We cannot hold it for our own…

We can only be aware;


Be ready to welcome;

Open to let this Presence wash over us…

Lean into its sanctuary…

And let it go


Mary Oliver’s words come to mind:

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

(from “Yes! No!”, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Eassays


11 05 2012

Stones gather with silence…

river flows – dancing…singing…

wind, like a waterfall through the trees, whispers…

all saying, “Welcome. Welcome to sanctuary!”

(Little River between Gatlinburg and Townsend, TN)

Horizons – On the Edge

25 08 2011

I woke at 5:40 a.m. – another early morning at the beach. My body wanted to stay in bed – my spirit dragged me to the window. Like opening a gift that contained the thing you want most in the world, I pulled back the shades to reveal the rays of the pre-dawn sun barely illuminating the horizon – a deep blue sky above; darkness still swimming across the waters below; but that thin place in between – a deep, warm red-orange glow lining the horizon. I grabbed my tripod and camera, and soon found myself wading in sand.


With feet and tripod dug into sand, I looked over the Atlantic, snapping pictures, standing in awe – then somewhere in between the two, Light began to illuminate what was within. From the distant horizon in my soul, Truth exposed a spiritual desert within. I couldn’t seem to find my center – the Center. Somehow the Center would need to find me. Instead of standing there on the beach, my soul felt like fleeing to the mountains – my sanctuary…to nestle into coves and hollows; to lean against foothills; to rest in the shade of mountain peaks; to stroll along high ridges; to soar from lofty vistas.


Yet, there I was, on the edge of a vast ocean: openness; uncovered, nothing to nestle into; nothing offering midday shade; no lofty terrain to soar from; nothing to lean into except breaking waves. Open and exposed…just me, an empty lifeguard chair, and the burning horizon illuminating whom I really was; illuminating the truth as to where I really was – no place to hide from me.


But it was okay. Underneath the restlessness…within my soul’s desire to take sanctuary in higher elevations…in the midst of feeling lost – there was a peace. There was an opportunity here – an opportunity to be found. A transformation was in motion (and still is).  As I stood at the ocean’s edge, struggling to comprehend its vastness, I was brought to the edge of trust.


I have to trust that the waters continue beyond the ever-brightening horizon…that they continue beyond the reach of my eyesight. Isn’t this the way of faith? Some things I can see…but I can only see so far. I can only know what I know up to this very moment. Because of my limitations, I cannot know it all. It comes to the point where the known meets the unknown…when I cannot step into the future with full certainty. Here, at the edge, I have a choice – I can choose what is safe, what I know, what has already been lived; or I can choose to risk and step toward what is before me, toward the unknown, toward the horizon God holds for me. I can choose to step into what I do not know for certain – letting go of pre-conceived notions…using fear’s fuel as energy to propel me toward adventure…letting go of who I think I will become and trusting that God is creating me to be more than I can image. This is an opportunity to go deeper…deeper within ourselves…deeper into others…deeper into God – stepping up to edge of and then into what we fully do not understand or know. With faith we trust the Spirit goes before us preparing the way…preparing us.


As I stood gazing over the beautiful painted horizon, I was reminded of a quote by Andre Gide:


We cannot discover new oceans


unless we have the courage to lose sight of
the shore.


Embracing Wilderness

26 02 2011

I remember that first solitary retreat I had in the Smokies. I was ready for some solitude…ready for some renewal…ready for some time in the mountains and in the woods. So I found myself in the small town of Townsend, Tennessee just outside the national park and on the first morning, I left just before dawn headed for Cades Cove. In past years I had enjoyed Cades Cove’s eleven-mile loop – its history, its beauty, and its wildlife (turkeys, deer, birds, bears) – from a car’s view. But I wanted the relationship to go a bit deeper this time. So I parked my car just inside the cove and headed for the Rich Mountain Loop trailhead. I was feeling alive. I was feeling the renewal I was seeking. I was heading into the woods – into the wilderness – with excitement and an adventuresome spirit.

As I trekked deeper into the forest – higher into the mountains, I was taking in all the sights, smells, and sounds: an occasional view back over the cove or a deer sighting…the rustic smell of earth and the sweet smell of Frazier firs…the melodic conversations of birds ringing in the air. Deer, birds…no turkey yet…no bear – yet.

You ever have those moments when the reality of the present moment becomes so vivid and clear? This was one of those moments. I became starkly aware…I was in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness, on a trail that did not see a lot of traffic (half way through a nine-mile hike and not a human seen nor heard, that’s what I wanted, right?), where I have no bars on my phone, and it was a real possibility I could cross paths with a bear. On past drives around Cades Cove I saw bears from the safety of my car, but for some reason it didn’t really register that bears don’t just hang out on roadsides waiting for people to take their pictures! “What am I doing here? In the middle of the woods? All alone?” And now my brain recalled that the Great Smoky Mountains trail map in my backpack had a box dedicated to “Bears – Guidelines for Your Safety.” What didn’t I get about the words bears and safety when studying the map that would lead me into the wild?

When I came back to myself, I recognized the emotion rising up…fear! My awareness became heightened…my senses on high alert. I was now listening – perceiving things – out of fear. Turning back was becoming a plausible option. I wasn’t quite half way into my hike any way and my legs ached from the steep climb. I could cut my hike short, turn back, and cover ground that would now be familiar…returning to the safety of my little box known as a car.

But, I also noticed that the surfacing fear within was laced with the thrill of adventure with which I began my journey. My DNA was whispering, “Finish what you started.” I leaned back into the solitude surrounding me – and with the sights, sounds, and smells of mountain forest still lingering, I stepped deeper into the wilderness.

I am reminded of the Israelites fleeing into the wilderness as Pharaoh’s army pursued. Could it be that wilderness can be a refuge…a sanctuary? There must have been fear – heightened awareness…senses on alert. Was it laced with excitement…anticipation…a sense of adventure…of freedom? Then days turned into weeks; weeks into months; months into years…still in the wilderness. The Israelites, discouraged, restless, and fearful – wanted to go back to Egypt! They would choose chains over freedom…death over life? At least in Egypt they knew what to expect…it was comfortable…like a box. But through struggle…through conflict…through unrest…through sitting in their own darkness, they noticed the lingering sights, sounds, and smells of Yahweh’s promise, “I AM will lead you. I love you.” In the midst of uncertainty and the unknown the Israelites stepped further into the wilderness. It was in their DNA. They had to be true to who they were called to be. Who knew? It was in the wilderness where the Israelites heard God more clearly…where they came to know themselves more fully – more wholly.

Could it be so with us? Do we dare step into the wilderness? Do we dare stay there until the promise land opens for us? I suspect it depends on which voices we heed – fear, power, ego, status quo…or, the Voice within that calls us to seek God; to lay down our chains and live in freedom; to live life abundantly. Wilderness living is not easy…but, is it worth it? This is the question each of us must answer as we peer into a mirror…as we find ourselves wandering in the wilderness.