14 12 2012


“Our desire is to banish waiting time in order to get on with our life!

be productive . . .

don’t sit around . . .

don’t waste time!


“But what if our life can be found within the waiting?”

Waiting . . .

In the not knowing –-  ”I just want to know!” . . .

but we don’t;

In blindness — ”Please, just show me!” . . .

but we can’t see a thing;

In discontentment –- “I need to move!” . . .

but to where?


I am afraid of this lingering time . . .

of what I might learn about myself;

that my loneliness will be fully revealed to myself and to others;

that my inadequacies will be exposed;

my faithlessness –- will be broadcast . . .


What courage it takes

to circumvent the “cut-and-run” instinct –-

holding our ground in this waiting place . . .

to embrace the fear and chaos that seeks to keep us undefined:


and slowly –- sometimes imperceptibly –-

our awareness dawns,

and we find our spirit freer than it has been before —

settling into what once seemed desolate.

(The quote is from Daily Hope: A Winter of Reflection, A publication of reflections from Well for the Journey, Inc.)



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.



Lessons in Solitude

5 01 2011

Early on a Thursday morning, I found myself driving through the Shenandoah National Park heading toward a secluded cabin and the woods – a place where I hear God best. The views were breathtaking and trees lending a natural canopy over country roads seemed to give a welcoming bow. I breathed deeply, felt myself slow down, and lifted up many “thank you” prayers!

I always go on these annual adventurers open-minded – listening for God…trying to be intentional in my awareness of the Spirit’s presence… discerning and seeking. I anticipate the melting of an anxiety-frozen body and the ceasing of a racing mind. So with a cool October day as the backdrop, mountains framed by my car windows, and  feeling the “Presence of Slowing”, I pulled into the cabin driveway. As I stepped out of the car, a wave of peace swept over me – “This is good…alone time…solitude.”

The first morning, I left the cabin at first light and drove to my hike destination – Flat Top…one of the Peaks of Otter. As I parked, it was extremely noticeable that I was very alone – no other cars…no other signs of life. I got out of the car, put on my gear, and stepped into the woods. I said the woods are where I hear God best. But this day, while on the trail, just past dawn, under a cover of trees, with overcast skies, and no other forms of life around (at least that I could see) – I heard many other things besides the voice of God…creatures my imagination conjured up from the fear growing within. The solitude that I so longed for had become loud and scary – the fear was calling my name. The solitude had become very noisy. Irrational thoughts born of this fear struggled for a dominant position within – looking to squeeze out any attention I would give to God; looking to push aside any awareness of God’s presence. Why is it so hard to trust God’s leading? Why is it so hard to trust myself? Why is it so easy to let distractions in? Why is Fear’s voice so loud in us?

My first day’s hike had not been what I had hoped. I rationalized, though, that it was being in an unfamiliar, secluded environment caused my distraction – never giving credence that God might be speaking even in the midst (maybe out of the midst) of the fear and noise within. “In the morning, everything would click.”

As the silent morning light bathed the room, I woke and felt anything but tranquil within. I knew the early morning would be a good time to meditate…to journal…to pray…to do something spiritual – that’s the reason for being on retreat! But instead I found myself straightening the bed (like who’s going to see it?), preparing lunch for the hike, washing the dishes, cleaning the counter, organizing items on the table…busy…busy…busy. Questions begin to raise their voices – Why do I not want to be with myself? Why do I shy away from God’s presence in this intimate place? Am I afraid of God’s presence? Am I afraid to be with me? Am I afraid of what I might encounter within my soul?

In his book, The Dark Night of the Soul, Gerald May says, “…Most of us live in a world of over stimulation and sensory overload. Without realizing it, we erect defenses against our own perceptions in order to avoid being overwhelmed. To some extent, this deadens our sensitivity and dulls our perceptiveness. We find ourselves no longer appreciative of the subtle sensations, delicate fragrances, soft sounds, and exquisite feelings we enjoyed as children. Like addicts experiencing tolerance – the need for more and more drugs to sustain their effect – many of us find ourselves seeking increasingly powerful stimulation to keep our enjoyment and satisfaction going.” (pp. 150-151)

I was in withdrawal!

I think “most of us live in a world of over stimulation and sensory overload.”  We do not know how to be alone with God or with ourselves. We yield to fear that drives us to “busy-ness”; that convinces us that we need noise to make life comfortable…more bearable. We need our “fix.” But, if we can slow down, if we can find time to be alone with God and with ourselves – I believe we will find true freedom, abundant life, and communion with God. There will be some withdrawal…our cravings are strong.

Questions can help us enter sacred space – Am I afraid to be with me? Am I afraid to be with God just as I am? No masks? No pretending? Not trying to be good enough? Not worrying about what others think?

Do we dare trust that God believes in us? Do we risk the change and freedom this will bring?