Reflections on preparing for a journey: themes from trials in the wilderness scripture

Not all those that wander are lost. — J.R.R. Tolkien

Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. — Anatole France Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. — Matsuo Basho

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
— Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To travel is to live. ― Hans Christian Andersen

Dream Big. Start Small. Act Now. — Robin Sharma

The most beautiful thing in the world is, of course, the world itself — Wallace Stevens

51. “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road. — Jack Kerouac

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.— Marcel Proust

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.— Lewis Carroll

Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled. — The Prophet Mohammed


For Those Who Have Far to Travel
— Jan Richardson

If you could see the journey whole,
you might never undertake it,
might never dare the first step
that propels you from the place
you have known toward the place
you know not.

Call it one of the mercies of the road:
that we see it only by stages
as it opens before us,
as it comes into our keeping,
step by single step.

There is nothing for it
but to go, and by our going
take the vows the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to the next step;
to rely on more than the map;
to heed the signposts of intuition and dream;
to follow the star that only you will recognize;
to keep an open eye for the wonders that
attend the path; to press on
beyond distractions, beyond fatigue,
beyond what would tempt you
from the way.

There are vows that only you will know:
the secret promises for your particular path
and the new ones you will need to make
when the road is revealed
by turns you could not have foreseen.

Keep them, break them, make them again;
each promise becomes part of the path,
each choice creates the road
that will take you to the place
where at last you will kneel
to offer the gift most needed—
the gift that only you can give—
before turning to go home by
another way.

That Journeys Are Good Rumi
If a fir tree had a foot or two like a turtle, or a wing,
Do you think it would just wait for the saw to enter?
You know the sun journeys all night under the earth;
If it didn’t, how could it throw up its flood of light in the east?
And salt water climbs with such marvelous swiftness to the sky.
If it didn’t, how would the cabbages be fed with the rain?
Have you thought of Joseph lately? Didn’t he leave his father in tears, going?
Didn’t he then learn how to understand dreams, and give away grain?
And you, if you have no feet to  leave your country, go
Into yourself, become a ruby mine, open to the gifts of the sun.
You could travel from your outer man into your inner man.
By a journey of that sort earth became a place where you find gold.
So leave your complaints and self-pity and internalized death-energy.
Don’t you realize how many fruits have already
escaped out of sourness into sweetness?
A good source of sweetness is a teacher; mine is named Shams.
You know every fruit grows more handsome in the light of the sun.


Throughout the scriptures, the wilderness represents a place of preparation, a place of waiting for God’s next move, a place of learning to trust in God’s mercy. For forty days and nights Jesus remains in the wilderness, without food, getting ready for what comes next. — Working Preacher

Like Jesus, we experience both The River and The Wilderness.
     At The River, whatever that represents for us, we are surrounded by community and given new life and called beloved.  God is near.  And it’s beautiful.  And we need it. But it’s not the whole picture.
     Yet it can feel as though we treat Christianity, or being “spiritual” as a Wilderness avoidance program.   As though finding oneself in the Wilderness is a failure. I know for myself, when I’m struggling with depression or I am in a period of hardship where nothing seems to be working, then I find that I label that time as “bad”.  Or more often than not I’m ashamed because after 20 years of sobriety and a seminary degree, shouldn’t I really have it all together?  So clearly I must be doing something wrong. Sometimes that’s true but sometimes … it’s just the wilderness.  And I can promise you this.  As much as I need to hear that I’m beloved and be surrounded by community and be made new, and we all need that, but as much as I need that, I never gained any wisdom from things going really well at The River. Because The River might fill the heart and that’s important, but it’s The Wilderness that brings wisdom.
     I mean, I’d love it if spiritual wisdom was distributed in the Personal Growth section at Barnes and Noble but that’s just not the way it goes. It’s always been found in The Wilderness. Because if we look at the order of things – at The River Jesus is baptized and called God’s beloved, (before he even does anything cool or enlightened or special by the way) after which he’s cast into The Wilderness for a good long while. And it’s only THEN that he begins teaching and healing. See, Jesus doesn’t begin teaching and healing until after he’s gone through 40 days of Satan, wild beasts and angels. So why do I think my Wilderness to be a personal failure if Jesus’ Wilderness gave him what was needed to heal and to teach? …
     I think maybe because some of us have been taught a rather anemic view of God.  That God is only found at The River times in life – only found in the moments of renewal and elation and blessedness.  In other words, God is only close to us when we feel close to God.  But that’s not true.  Your feelings about God have precious little to do with God’s actual nearness to you. Because Sometimes God’s nearness to us is also found in the way that God creates wisdom out of our wilderness experiences.  God’s nearness to us, is just as real in the blessings of The River as it is in the struggles of The Wilderness.  And Oprah would kill me for saying this, but how we feel doesn’t really matter.  Not in this case…
    Maybe tonight you are struggling with depression, or unemployment or divorce or addiction.  Maybe you are in The Wilderness of wild beasts and angels. But the wisdom is coming.  And after that, The River so that your heart might again be filled. That’s the life of the baptized. The River, then The Wilderness, then The River. In other words,  this whole thing has always been about daily death and resurrection. — Nadia Bolz-Weber, full article: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/01/wild-beasts-and-sheet-cake-a-sermon-for-baptism-of-our-lord/

Can we let God be God for us? If we face down our demons, can we trust that God will hold us?
      It may be helpful to consider Jesus in the wilderness as a coming of age story or coming into your own story that most people face. All around the world there are ceremonies and traditions young people in particular undertake to move into adulthood. Jewish young people have bar or bat mitzvahs and Christian young people have Confirmation. In Latino cultures, young women celebrate their Quinceanera. Some Inuits go out into the wilderness with their fathers when they’re 11 or 12 to test their hunting skills and get acclimated to the arctic weather. The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania have a number of initiations young men most undergo before they become warriors in the tribe. …
     Human beings are meaning-makers. We tell stories and have rituals that help us mark important moments, moments when we move from one part of our lives into another. Perhaps this wilderness story is about Jesus moving from those safe and beautiful waters of baptism in the Jordan River to encounter the harsh realities of the world in the wilderness. Knowing that not everyone was going to believe he’s God’s Son, some people would want him to use his power and influence for their own purposes, and some people would want him to test God or be the Messiah they wanted him to be. All of this going against God naming Jesus and claiming Jesus as God’s own. All of this going against God being the One who tells us who we all are—beloved people of God.  So that’s one way to consider Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness—that it’s about Jesus coming into his own. …
     The other understanding we can glean from Jesus tempted in the wilderness is that the wilderness environment is not unique to Jesus in the least. We will have times when we are there too. Not necessarily physically speaking, but in a spiritual wilderness. The wilderness by definition is an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region. The wilderness is wild and natural—where few people live. In our spiritual lives, the wilderness is when we feel pretty isolated from one another and perhaps even from ourselves and from God. Though perhaps the wilderness provides the landscape for us to do some profound spiritual wrestling with God.
In the end, when we’re in the wilderness, we can trust that God is with us, and that we are not alone. We can trust that we belong to God and that God has named us and claimed us as God’s own. We can trust that evil never gets the last word, and that love wins—always has and always will. Let us keep trust in our hearts as we journey with Jesus in the wilderness. — Mary James

…. If in Christ we have been tempted, in Him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in Him, and see yourself as victorious in Him. He could have kept the devil from himself, but if He were not tempted He couldn’t teach you how to triumph over temptation. — St Augustine


Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. – Jane Kenyon.

And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself? — Rumi

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.— Tim Cahill

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page. — St Augustine

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow..— Anita Desai

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.― Martin Buber

Journeys bring power and love back into you. If you can’t go somewhere, move in the passageways of the self. They are like shafts of light, always changing, and you change when you explore them. — Rumi

I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way. — Carl Sagan

The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.— G.K. Chesterton

Do not follow where a path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. — John A. Shedd

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.  — Yogi Berra

If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet. — Rachel Wolchin

All you’ve got to do is decide to go and the hardest part is over. — Tony Wheeler

You don’t choose the day you enter the world and you don’t choose the day you leave. It’s what you do in between that makes all the difference. — Anita Septimus

Wilderness— Carl Sandburg
  There is a wolf in me . . .
fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . .
a red tongue for raw meat . . .
and the hot lapping of blood—
I keep this wolf because the wilderness
gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.       There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . .
I sniff and guess . . .
I pick things out of the wind and air . . .
I nose in the dark night and
take sleepers and eat them
and hide the feathers . . .
I circle and loop and double-cross.   There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a
machinery for eating and grunting . . .
a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—
I got this too from the wilderness
and the wilderness will not let it go.   There is a fish in me . . .
I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . .
I scurried with shoals of herring . . .
I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . .
before land was . . . before the water went down . .
. before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.   There is a baboon in me . . .
clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . .
yawping a galoot’s hunger . . .
hairy under the armpits . . .
here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . .
here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . .
here they hide curled asleep waiting . . .
ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . .
waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.   There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . .
and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains
of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . .
and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon
before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope,
gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—
And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.  

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs,
under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—
and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

Reflections on water & respite in hard times and places

As one commentator says, “there are many kinds of thirst.” Where do we find respite and rescue in the midst of dry, hard, troubled times? What are the wastelands of our lives? Where do signs of life surprise us in our personal and communal “desert places”?

You should not see the desert simply as some faraway place of little rain. There are many forms of thirst. — William Langewiesche
Water Water Water Wind Water Juan Felipe Herrera
water water water wind water
across the land shape of a torn heart
… again and again a new land edge emerges
a new people emerges where race and class and death
and life and water and tears and loss
and life and death destruction and life and tears
compassion and loss and a fire …
rumbles toward you all directions wherever
you are alive still

If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young. — Anne Lamott

What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well. —Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This is the sense of the desert hills, and there is room enough and time enough. — Mary Hunter Austin

Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water. — Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness–especially in the wilderness–you shall love [God]. — Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure. — Francis of Assisi

I alternate between thinking of the planet as home–dear and familiar stone hearth and garden–and as a hard land of exile in which we are all sojourners. — Annie Dillard

Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected … On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there … Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together. ― Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are

… there are no crows in the desert. What appear to be crows are ravens. You must examine the crow, however, before you can understand the raven. To forget the crow completely, as some have tried to do, would be like trying to understand the one who stayed without talking to the one who left. It is important to make note of who has left the desert. — Barry López, Desert Notes: Reflections in the Eye of a Raven

New Water
— Sharon Chmielarz
All those years—almost a hundred—
the farm had hard water.
Hard orange. Buckets lined in orange.
Sink and tub and toilet, too,
once they got running water.
And now, in less than a lifetime,
just by changing the well’s location,
in the same yard, mind you,
the water’s soft, clear, delicious to drink.
All those years to shake your head over.
Look how sweet life has become;
you can see it in the couple who live here,
their calmness as they sit at their table,

the beauty as they offer you new water to drink.

DesertJosephine Miles

When with the skin you do acknowledge drought,
The dry in the voice, the lightness of feet, the fine
Flake of the heat at every level line;

When with the hand you learn to touch without
Surprise the spine for the leaf, the prickled petal,
The stone scorched in the shine, and the wood brittle;

Then where the pipe drips and the fronds sprout
And the foot-square forest of clover blooms in sand,
You will lean and watch, but never touch with your hand.

Meditation on manna from heaven and the last shall be first

Meditation from this week’s texts: grace in unexpected times and places — manna in the desert and overturning the social order when ‘the last shall be first’

The Last Shall Be First

Love someone who doesn’t deserve it. — Wendell Berry

Maybe God (or Goodness or Good Orderly Direction or Gift of Desperation) is in whom we move, live and have our being, but the world is a also a chaotic place and humanity is a chaotic place, and I am a chaotic place some days, too. So I take the right action: I get my own emotional acre in order, through radical self-care, serving the poor, sharing my M&M’s, flirting with the very old. Then the insight follows, the one I share … that, all evidence to the contrary, we are loved and chosen and safe.— Anne Lamott

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. — Niels Bohr

To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. — Gandhi, Farewell

Tonight, darling, we are going to right a lot of wrongs. And we are going to wrong some rights. The first shall be last; the last shall be first; the meek shall do some earth-inheriting. ― John Green, Paper Towns


This bread is the body of the cosmos. — Thich Nhat Hanh

If it is bread that you seek, you will have bread. If it is the soul you seek, you will find the soul. If you understand this secret, you know you are that which you seek. — Jalaluddin Rumi

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten … Only by continued oversight … by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity. — Wendell Phillips

According to legend, the Israelites were doomed to starvation but were saved by food called ‘manna’ in the form of coriander seed that came from the heavens. The manna fell during the night on dew, which encased and protected the seeds until morning when they could be gathered and ground into flour, which was used to bake a sweet bread. A double portion fell on Friday so that there was enough to bake bread for that day as well as for Saturday, the Sabbath, when no manna fell. ― Martin K. Gay, Encyclopedia of North American Eating & Drinking Traditions, Customs, and Rituals

… manna. It is a honey-like excretion from certain insects which infest tamarisk trees in this area. When it drops from the leaves it becomes almost solid, but in the heat of the day it melts, so it must be collected in the morning. That sufficient was available to feed all is a miracle, a special intervention by God. … the name manna comes from “‘What is it?’”, man hu in Hebrew: the Israelites ask what do you call it. — Chris Haslam, Anglican Diocese of Montreal (blog)

God takes things away from us, and then forms a new identity in us. It is hard. It can be painful. But it is an act of freedom. It is a liberating act of God, and there will be times where we will yearn for the ways of old …  God takes all sort of things away from us. God takes death from us. God takes shame from us. God takes oppression and bondage from us. And then God gives us manna. God gives us God’s own identity. God nourishes. God feeds. — Rev Michael Isaacs

Paradise Regain’d: Book 1 (1671 version)
— John Milton  (Excerpt)

He ended, and the Son of God reply’d.
Think’st thou such force in Bread? is it not written
(For I discern thee other then thou seem’st)
Man lives not by Bread only, but each Word
Proceeding from the mouth of God; who fed
Our Fathers here with Manna; in the Mount
Moses was forty days, nor eat nor drank,
And forty days Eliah without food
Wandred this barren waste, the same I now.
Why dost thou then suggest to me distrust,
Knowing who I am, as I know who thou art?

where our protest sound
Lenelle Moïse

… haiti’s first cousin
forcibly kissed
by a hurricane
… hot winds
come one fat
old levee leak
explodes. fixing funds gone
to homeland
security. soldiers
stationed in iraq. said,

jazz is underwater
days like laissez-faire
manna does not fall
saviors do not save

hunger prays to rage for
resilience, improvisational genius
implodes, anarchy duets
with despair …

MannaKing Woman
(excerpt from song lyrics)

Am I created in the image of my “Father God”?
Am I created in an image? What I had I lost
Am I created in an image what I want to see?
I am created in the image of suffering
I’m suffering
Calling all your heavy laden
All suffering

Calling all you heavy laden

Manna machine …

Meditation: drink from the well — wonder & curiosity

I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love. ― Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Wonder by Deakin Dixon
I who flounder in the things of the spirit,
Deep in the things of the flesh, and deep in song.
Burn this self till I can no longer bear it,
Life frenzying my ears like a deep gong –
I, who have not learned to walk as yet
High above men, with dark peace in my eyes,
To walk wisely, knowing only to let
My wise hands covet the trees, desire the skies:
I, abandoned to things bright or ugly,
To all things living, asking bowed or bold,
Marvel at you, wrapped securely, snugly,
In beauty and bearing. You seem strangely old –
Until I suddenly know that you have gone
Through places I have feared to tread upon.

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.  –  Stephen Hawking

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.  ― Rachel Carson

Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory. ― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. ― Socrates

Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I’ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut.  ― Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle. ― Thich Nhat Hahn

Scroll to top