February 12

And if for God’s sake we amputate our own will, God will enable us to reach, with inexpressible joy, a perfection that we have never known; and when we experience this we will be filled with wonder at seeing how joy and spiritual knowledge begin to pour forth from everywhere. We will derive some profit from everything and God will reign in us, since we have no will of our own, but have submitted ourselves to the holy will of God. We become like kings, so that whatever we desire we receive effortlessly and speedily from God, who has us in His care.

~St Peter of Damaskos

Paths of Desire (part 27)

We arrived in New Mexico on a cold winter’s night. We had turned off of Highway 40 in eastern Arizona and headed north on Highway 12 towards the ‘Devil’s Highway’ as the sign said. This sounded foreboding, and as we exited and began driving into the deep night and the barren landscape, it also felt foreboding. Had I known then what was in store for us up ahead, in about an hour’s time, I would have clearly understood this foreboding. We continued driving through the deepening darkness while a light snow began to fall and the temperatures plummeted. I was driving the Taurus with MD in the passenger seat and we were leading the way, while S. was driving the Toyota pickup behind us, then J. in his car and lastly M. and S. driving the Suburban and trailer loaded with all of our supplies. It was a quiet night and I was tired from driving. We had been steadily climbing for a little while; outside it was pitch black and I had no sense of our surroundings. The road crested and then began its descent; not long after that, as we came around a curve, I lost control of the car. It began sliding across the road, gently and smoothly, as if in slow motion, but inexorably we slid in the direction of the utter darkness just beyond the other side of the road. MD grabbed the wheel, and turned into the slide, correcting us, as we had also begun to spin. The car straightened out and I saw the very end of a guardrail up ahead, which we proceeded to slam into, bringing us to an abrupt stop. A moment later we felt the Toyota slam into the back of our car; and a moment after that we heard J. plow into the back of the Toyota and then felt the force transfer into our car. I waited for a few moments more, expecting to feel the Suburban ram into all of us. It was a brief span of time as we waited, and in this moment’s pause I considered our position as the last two collisions had jogged the end of our car loose, and we were aimed squarely into the unknown. It seemed likely, even certain, that when the Suburban would hit us, with all of that mass, we would be thrust out into the darkness, and though I couldn’t see what was out there, I felt as if it would be better not to find out.

Several more moments passed and then, as I looked through our back windshield, I was relieved to see M. pass slowly by, in control, and on the proper side of the road. By God’s grace nobody was hurt and all of the vehicles could still be driven, though they had sustained a fair amount of body damage. Several miles up the road we found a small church and parked our vehicles there. It was very late by now, and we all were very tired from the previous events, so we set up our tents in a flat, open field to the side of the church building and fell asleep.

The next morning we awoke to find that it had snowed quite a bit and we were in the midst of a wide and expansive plain, with little more to be seen than the church building we had camped next to and a few other small homes in the distance, and mountains far beyond that. The church was at a crossroads of the little connecting road that we had been on, and the highway which headed back south to Gallup NM. We were about an hour or so north of Gallup and planned to go in that direction, but before we did, we drove back to the scene of the accident to get a sense of what had happened. Clearly we all hit a patch of ice on the road and lost control; fortunately the weight of the Suburban gave it more friction and connection to the asphalt, enabling M. to keep it going in the right direction. We pulled up alongside the section of guardrail that had kept us from whatever was on the other side, and as we parked, I realized that we had truly escaped death. Just the other side of the guardrail, the earth disappeared and there was only a vast emptiness. A deep and rocky gorge ran alongside the road and it wasn’t clear how deep it went, but it was deep enough. Across this chasm, perhaps sixty feet or so, the rocky face of the other side looked ragged and ominous. The early morning light cast gloomy shadows across the craggy rocks and gave them a threatening appearance. Leaning over the edge as far as was safe, and attempting to see into the depths, none of us could determine anything down below, unable to lean out far enough to see over the edge.

Our next campsite was on a plateau high above the surrounding desert, some twenty or thirty miles to the east and slightly north of Gallup, not far from Hosta Butte. We found a remote area along the ridge of the plateau, amidst the rock faces and outcroppings and settled in for the next month or two. I found a shallow cave to set up my sleeping bag. It was actually more of a deep shelf carved into the face of the rock. It was not much deeper than the width of my bag, and not much longer either; yet it afforded enough additional room to keep my few personal effects, along with my sleeping bag and a groundpad.

Before driving to our new campsite we stopped off in Gallup to buy a few provisions; and it had to be very few indeed because we only had seven dollars between the six of us. We found a discount grocery store and purchased a large bag of rice, a gallon can of honey, a large bag of beans and a substantial package of tortillas to live on until we could find work and make some additional money. We had enough money to get the vehicles to our campsite but not much further. However, the Toyota pickup still had enough to make a trip back into town so M. and I left the others on the plateau and returned to Gallup to find work and earn money for more food and gasoline. The others spent time setting up the camp. Because the weather was so cold and the wind was strong on top of the plateau, they didn’t set up the larger tents or the kitchen, but instead excavated into the earth and created a large protected living space roughly 4 feet deep and about twenty feet across. It was semi-circular, and in the middle of the straight side, they constructed a large fireplace using soil and melted snow. Over the top of this living space they erected large tarps set on branches placed vertically as pillars to raise the roof slightly, which allowed us to walk about the space only slightly hunched over; and then they tied the tarps off all around the perimeter to other rocks or vegetation to hold them in place. The fire generated a lot of heat in this small space and kept us very comfortable against the elements outside.

Meanwhile, in Gallup, M. and I struggled to find work by day, and slept in our truck bed by night. We found some day labor, unloading hay bales from a semi-trailer and stacking them into a barn, which paid three dollars per hour. It was back breaking work and we managed to make about twenty-five dollars each, after a full day of effort; but we slept effortlessly afterwards. Nights were cold in the bed of the truck, as the snow fell, covering us and our sleeping bags while we slept. During our stay in Gallup, he and I cobbled several jobs together and raised a small sum of money, enough to keep all of our vehicles fueled and enough for food and other essentials.

The desert rock and the towering plateau, from which one could gaze upon the world far below or at the mountains east of Albuquerque in the extreme distance, set the scene for our bucolic and austere life. Frugality was at the center of our existence, yet even closer to our lives’ center, was the sense and feeling of brotherly love and familial caring. The world’s vicissitudes had faded for us long ago, and now we lived simpler lives, hand to mouth, and close to the earth. It was easy here to feel as if the modern world had disappeared and gone away, and we could touch something beyond time, and taste a bit of eternity. It was also a good setting for living out the life that Christ exhorts of His followers; to live as one, sharing all things in common without private property, caring for one another and using our gifts for the benefit of the whole.

In January 1994 I was hired to work as a waiter in an upscale restaurant of a local hotel in Gallup. After weeks of sporadic day labor for little money I was relieved to finally have a job that could bring in steady and good income. I drove back to our home on the plateau to share the good news. The next day MD said it was time for us to move, so we packed everything up and drove southwest to Tucson AZ. I was a little stunned and disappointed and suggested that maybe I should stay for a little while to earn money and then join everyone later but that wasn’t to be our plan, so I quit before I started, and we moved our community to Arizona.

From a practical perspective it didn’t make sense not to keep the job at the restaurant, especially after the struggles of the previous weeks, but then I had to remember that our goals were not worldly, and while we certainly needed money to survive, it was a secondary consideration to the spiritual purposes of our training. In fact, struggling to get my job and then letting go of it immediately thereafter actually fit perfectly with the goal of being detached from the outcome of my actions; and leaving at that precise moment helped me to gain humility in the face of my imagined success, and also through the process of relinquishing my immediate goals and achievements.

(to be continued)


The Eyes of Winter

How I loved to look at Fall,

through spring’s eyes.

The slant of golden light,

hinting at fading life;

a novelty,

to one as young as I.


Now in the fall of life,

Fall’s rich melancholies,

muted and ephemeral;

beauty nearly too much to bear,

for one as I,

passing through his middle years.


While in the flush of Summer,

all life abounding;

affords one little time for,

life’s reflecting.

And winter’s chill still so far off,

hardly feels impending.


So when the Winter sneaks upon us,

bringing its wintry pallor;

After Spring, Fall and Summer’s joys,

With winter’s eyes we follow,

the tracks of those who’ve gone before us,

into the vast and bright tomorrow.




Ah, how the seasons roll on by,

with time and life in tow.

Oh, they bring changes and a sigh;

surprise from head to toe.


Spring arrives declaring new growth,

the lawn needs re-seeding.

Youth passes defying my oaths,

my hair is receding.


Summer’s wildly warm and buoyant,

leaves are bright in the trees.

Aging’s calling for more ointment,

I’ve a pain in my knees.


Fall brings a crisp chill to the air,

vibrant colors delight.

There’s a new baldness in my hair,

what’s happened to my sight?


Winter’s stillness is so calming,

the snow is getting deep.

Though not ready for embalming,

I’d like a good night’s sleep.



February 9

“Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will nourish you” (Psalm 55:22). The more they place their hope in the Lord with regard to all things that concern them, whether of soul or body, the more they will find that the Lord provides for them. In the end they will regard themselves as lower than all other creatures because of God’s many gifts, visible and invisible, bestowed on both soul and body. So great grows their debt that they cannot feel proud about anything because of their shame at God’s generosity. The more they give thanks to Him and try forcibly to exert themselves for the sake of His love, the more God draws near to them through His gifts and longs to fill them with peace, making them value stillness and voluntary poverty more than all the kingdoms of this earth, without even taking account of any reward in the world to come.

~St Peter of Damaskos

Paths of Desire (part 26)

It turned out I didn’t have very long to wait; several hours later, around midnight, I saw headlights approaching in the darkness and soon we had the trailer hooked up and we were returning to our camp. Not many days after this we broke camp, packed up and began our trek south. We took the two-lane highway leading towards Mt Lassen late one afternoon as winter was beginning to settle across the area. Snow was already collecting in shady hollows here and there along the side of the highway and further up the surrounding slopes, their tops were already beginning to turn white. Just as the day began to turn to dusk we pulled into a remote state park, however, everything was closed for the season and the gates were locked. There were no alternative options anywhere nearby and we had a caravan: our mobile-kitchen Toyota pickup, the Taurus, our Suburban and trailer, along with J.’s little car which he still drove, though we intended to sell it; as he wasn’t yet able to accept the vow of poverty, and he still had attachment to his possessions.

Provision in our community was typically given to each of us, for our particular weaknesses, as we struggled to overcome them. I found that it was significantly easier to battle these things, with the help of MD yet, even so, weaknesses are strong within us and do not disappear overnight. For J. he had more difficulty with giving up personal property than others did, so he was allowed more leniency in this respect, but with the goal still being un-attachment and freedom from possessiveness.

One of the tenets of our training, as directed and taught by MD, was that whatever came between us and the noble virtues, such as selflessness, service, moderation, purity of thought and action, kindness and so on, these obstructions were the very things we must confront and overcome; this being done by experiencing again whatever it was that made us originally choose to cave in to these weaknesses or vices, and then in the midst of the struggle with these experiences, to choose this time, rather to act or think differently, and thereby create the beginning of a new habit that is more honorable and virtuous and loving, and which leads us to freedom from that old “stuff” as we called it. I had a whole litany of issues that I had to confront and work to transform, which I will describe in more detail as this story unfolds, but in brief I was weak in the face of conflict and needed to regain strength of love in the face of violence and anger, I also was very prideful and had thoughts of superiority over others, so I had to confront the pains of humiliation and through that find a new place inside that doesn’t artificially prop myself up by using these things as compensation; and there were many more things, such as lustful thoughts, and avoiding conflict, which I won’t go into now, but will share when the time is right.

So there we were, our caravan, far away from any towns, and without a place to park or camp for the night. To the side of the locked gates the hillside was gradual and the ground was hardened by the cold. It seemed possible for our smaller vehicles to weave their way around and past the myriad of trees that covered the hill and make their way through the forest and back down onto the asphalt further inside the gates where we could park and stay for the night. However, the Suburban and trailer combined were easily thirty-five feet long and also quite bulky. It was impossible to get these through the trees, there were hundreds of trees, large and small, scattered over the hillside and they were growing very closely together, and the route was several hundred feet to get around and back onto the park road behind the gate.

Nevertheless MD assessed the situation and told us to drive through and we would make it. The smaller vehicles went first and made it through to the other side without too much trouble, although in some places the angles and space available between the trees were sharper and tighter than I had anticipated, and we did almost get a vehicle stuck once or twice. But when M. began to drive the Suburban towing the trailer, up the hillside and into the trees, I was nearly certain he would end up getting lodged between several trees and it would be immovable. Each of us had a role as M. slowly inched his way through the trees; I was scouting one side and providing information to MD and M as they navigated forward. K. and J. and S. also had stations alongside the Suburban and trailer, and gave information about available space between the trees. All of us had the additional task of pulling branches back out of the way as M. continued to thread his way through the trees, while MD walked on ahead and plotted the route. On several occasions we used ropes and a winch to bend smaller trees aside, allowing passage, and multiple times we needed to unhitch the trailer, move the Suburban into a different trajectory, and then reconnect them again heading in a slightly altered direction. As we inched forward I began to realize that we somehow were actually going to get this camel through the eye of the needle, and then I began to realize another thing; that this was a lesson about facing the seemingly impossible and with perseverance, conquering it; and also it was about teamwork, and the joy of tackling something unimaginable together. Eventually, several hours later, the Suburban pulled off the hillside, out of the trees, and back onto the asphalt far down the road, on the other side of the gates; and moments later the trailer came out as well. We all enjoyed a brief celebration of our victory, and then proceeded to set up camp for the night.

The next morning we left the same way we came in, although we were better at it this time and did it more quickly and with less difficulty. We got back on the highway heading south and after several hours, we cut back west, across the state, and over to the coast. This was the beginning of one of the lightest and most enjoyable periods of my time in this community. I had no idea where we were going, or where we would end up, but we had such a great time getting there. We stopped along the coast to spend the night on a beach just north of Salmon Creek. MD gave me a well-known book to read, Be Here Now by Ram Dass. I found a shallow cave against the cliff-face and retreated to read it, while the rest of the group played on the beach and enjoyed each other’s company. Later in the day I finished the book, since it isn’t long, and then joined the others. In the morning I awoke as my brothers and sisters pulled me, in my sleeping bag, down the sand and into the surf. It was a surprising and entertaining way to be awoken.

We continued driving down the coast of California with our caravan. I was in the Suburban with MD and he began to talk with me in a more severe tone of voice. As we continued driving, the situation became increasingly tense as he confronted me. After several minutes of this he called to the other cars over our walkie-talkies to stop and pull over. He demanded I exit the vehicle, which I did, and then on the side of the coast highway, he began to yell at me and then motioned to pick up a stone to throw at me. I waited to see what would happen, my pulse had become quite elevated, and I was concerned about the possible outcomes of my situation. The scenario ended after a few more moments, then he got back in the Suburban and called me to join him, which I cautiously did; and then we all continued driving south again. This was the first time he had interacted with me in this manner and with this intensity. I was startled, and didn’t completely know what to make of it, though I understood, in theory, what we were doing and why. It was quite different however, to suddenly experience the reality of this type of teaching, and not merely think about it as a possibility.

As we continued driving, I reflected further on what had just happened, and also on my past. I have never been a person to get into altercations, and I have always tried to avoid any kind of escalation of bad feelings. I remember the one fight I ever had, in grade school, and even then I couldn’t bring myself to punch him, but only pushed and yelled for a moment, and then felt ridiculous and apologized. Even so, it wasn’t that I was above anger, but I avoided it because I was afraid, mainly, and didn’t like the idea of being out of control, or of bringing another person to a place of uncontrolled emotion; with the possibility that something bad could happen. I had never really experienced someone yelling at me like MD had just done, and in a strange way it was liberating, because I had always feared what that would be like; in the end it wasn’t that bad. I had survived, and actually felt stronger from the experience.

We continued driving through California and then turned east and entered Arizona. On long stretches of flat, straight highway, when no other cars were around, we would practice passing notes to each other from car to car through our open windows. Mostly these were notes that MD would write for us, with a fun message or lesson, specifically intended and crafted for each recipient. He crafted them to teach, but also to amuse. On one of mine he wrote:

“What is fear? It is the end of freedom, of faith, and of Peace. Do not falter.

Sever the fear besotten threads that have bound you. Do not let the maggots

of fear kick sand into your experience of being. Build up the fortress of the

will. Have faith. God will sustain.”

(To Be Continued)


February 7

The person who searches for the meaning of the Scriptures will not put forward his own opinion, bad or good; but, as St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom have said, he will take as his teacher, not the learning of this world, but Holy Scripture itself. Then if his heart is pure and God puts something unpremeditated into it, he will accept it, providing he can find confirmation for it in the Scriptures, as St Antony the Great says.

For St Isaac says that the thoughts that enter spontaneously and without premeditation into the intellects of those pursuing a life of stillness are to be accepted; but that to investigate and then to draw one’s own conclusions is an act of self-will and results in material knowledge.

~St Peter of Damaskos

Paths of Desire (part 25)

In the late summer of 1993 I was sent off on a mission of sorts, to canvas the Bay Area with our brochures and new posters, announcing our community and the teachings of MD. With the car loaded with hundreds of these, I embarked on a two or three week excursion to flood the natural food stores, cafes, bookstores, colleges and universities from Sonoma County in the north to Santa Cruz in the south, San Francisco and the east bay. I enjoyed the solitude and the purpose. And it was of particular interest to me to notice how different everything seemed now, as I traveled familiar roads, and yet they were no longer the same to me. I had changed so much in just a few short months. As I visited familiar bookstores and cafes I was struck by the sense that I was no longer living in the same world as I had before. It was the first time I understood, in a real and tangible way, the idea of being in the world, but not of the world. These places, and what they offered, were no longer for me, and I didn’t miss them at all, in fact, I felt liberated and transcendent. I might walk by a theater and place a poster on the notice board out front, and have no interest in what was playing inside. Or visiting a café, to drop off some brochures, I wouldn’t consider buying anything, since I had my oranges and bananas in the car, and that was all I needed. I was satisfied and content, and amused by my surprising transformation.

Upon returning to our campsite a few weeks later I found it transformed as well. I had left in late summer, while the days were still sun-filled and warm and the evenings were temperate, but when I returned it was noticeably early fall; the days had that touch of briskness to them, and the air had that earthy smell that announces the changing of the seasons. And the nights were beginning to be cold. I arrived in the afternoon and found K. and J. in the kitchen preparing for the evening meal. They welcomed me with great warmth, and then they began to tell me about the newest member, who had joined our community while I was gone. They had met L. at Panther Meadow and after spending some time with MD he instantly joined. I was amazed how quickly L. had joined us and become a revered member of our community. He was described in glowing terms and with great zeal by the both of them. I looked forward to meeting him.

We remained at our location west of Mt Shasta for several more weeks and in this time we purchased two vehicles and a trailer. Through a friend L. and M. were able to attend a car dealer auction and purchase for a very good price both a Chevy Suburban and a Ford Taurus, both fairly new and in good condition. Well, at least the Suburban was in good condition, while the Taurus only looked good. MD. had advised them not to purchase the Taurus, but as often occurred M. felt he knew better and did it anyway. The Taurus nearly made it off the car lot before the transmission fell out, but not quite. There are no refunds at a dealer’s auction; though it was just purchased and had barely driven a hundred feet before breaking down, it was our problem.  We were able to get a new transmission and get the Taurus running again and after this it worked well for us for a long time. The trailer was of a heavy steel frame construction with an eight foot by 16 foot solid wood bed. In order to make it more useful, we built a wood box around the perimeter of the frame, four feet high, made of 2×4 framing with 3/4″ plywood sheathing and multiple coats of spar varnish. The back of the wood box was attached to the side panels at its two ends, using rope connections at the corners, so that the back panel could be untied and removed for easy loading. This trailer became an essential part of our lives as we used it for many things: to more our camp, to move materials for our landscaping business, and for our moving company business. But before it became an integral part of our lives it was disputed property and the object of a rift between L. and our community.

Almost as mysteriously as L. had arrived, he suddenly left. I had hardly gotten to know him when I heard that he was gone and he had taken the trailer with him. I believe we had purchased the trailer with money that L. had given to the community, although I don’t know this as a fact, but I assume this, since it explains why he felt justified, at least in his mind, to take the trailer with him when he left. I was treasurer and paid bills so it seems I should know what happened, however I only took care of routine bills, and wasn’t always involved with the cash immediately when it arrived, particularly as gifts or donations. The purchase of the vehicles and the trailer I hadn’t been involved with, but I deduced that L. still felt ownership of the money he had given to the community since he had given it so recently and hadn’t been with us for very long. On the other hand, all of us had taken vows of poverty, L. included, and none of us had individual or sole ownership of anything. In my mind whatever he may have given us, was given freely and had become communal property so it wasn’t right for him to take the trailer with him. In any case, what I thought didn’t matter as I wasn’t directly involved in any of it and was only tangentially involved until the afternoon that someone discovered where L. had hidden the trailer for safe keeping, at a home in town. We had the registration and title to the trailer so legally it was ours to take, so we did. We brought the Suburban and hooked the trailer up and drove it away while L. was elsewhere in town.

In order to keep the trailer safe we drove it far up the south side of Mt Shasta to hide it where it wouldn’t be found. There is an elaborate network of dirt roads reaching up the mountain, probably old lumber roads, and these trails extend far, far up the mountain’s side. We drove several miles up one of these little roads and then cut off onto a side road and drove down to the end, where it abruptly stopped in a surround of tall grasses and small bent trees. We unhooked the trailer and decided that I would stay with it for the night, until they would come back for me at some point later.

It was a chilly night towards the end of November. We had had one or two light dustings of snow already, earlier in the month. I sat on the trailer bed in the solitude of the mountain and looked out towards the mountain tops to the south. Over the darkened ridge rose the large silvery-white disc of the full moon and behind that glowed the sky in vibrant pink and lavender hues. A slight wind blew up the mountain from down below and I breathed it in deeply. It was a stunning and magical night in every way; I reflected on my surroundings and this unexpected adventure I was suddenly a part of, and I wondered what was coming next. Most immediately I wondered when my friends would return for me, would it be a few hours, or in the morning, or would it be days? Then after that, where would we be moving next? Winter was coming very soon and I expected we wouldn’t stay here very much longer.

(to be continued)


God: Superfluous or Essential?

Without You, Lord, I am miserable. Without You as the focus, and the focusing, of my life;

I am lost, and my mind, swirls endlessly.

You give music, dance, and games to enjoy. You give family and friends for company. Yet none of these things can fulfill, without knowing You dwelling in their essence.

After the noise and the fun are all through, there’s an anguish of emptiness that remains; my soul’s hangover from the worldly intoxications of the previous evening.

God, what do we need of you anymore? I hear this asked. We can live quite well on our own they say.

Yet then—what need has meat, of protein? It will still taste as good. And surely chemical bonds don’t make the water more refreshing? Just give those thirsty men glasses of hydrogen and oxygen.

Man, on morphine fails to feel his pain, but the source of the pain hasn’t vanished. If we are now too numb to know our God, does this somehow mean that He is gone?

Is God dead? Or has our perception just grown so very dim? Man is dying, not God.

I’ve sat inside stadiums, filled with promise, excitement and anticipation; filled with noise and colorful lights, the hope of victory, or the magic of art. I’ve heard the thunderous applause, the frenzy and the laughter; and what have I gained from this, what have I bought with my money, time and effort?

Time, merely spent, perhaps a pleasant memory with those I love, but then hollow emptiness, and the passing of time. I did not forestall death, I only distracted myself for a short time, while it crept up a little closer.

There is no distraction that will impede that approach. Entertainment, like morphine, drips into our veins and fills our minds; numbing us to our true lives, dulling our perceptions, and deadening us to God’s presence.

It would be time better spent, to call relentlessly upon our Great Physician; to heal and to calm us, to bring us peace; and rather turn aside from these opioids for the soul, that only imitate a cure, sedating us for a time, mollifying our symptoms, but not addressing our underlying disease.

We need you God, whether we know it or not; whether we will admit it or not. It is existentially true. And without You, Lord, we do not realize how miserable we truly are, and in this, our misery has no cure.


February 4

In all this, and in what has been said above, one should keep a proper order, and one should work on whatever one understands. For what one cannot understand one should give silent thanks, as St Isaac says, but should not presumptuously assume that one has understood it. And St Isaac, borrowing his words from Sirach, also says: “When you find honey, eat moderately, lest by over-indulging you make yourself sick” (Proverbs 25:16). As St Gregory the Theologian says, ‘Uncontrolled contemplation may well push us over the edge, when we seek for what is beyond our strength and are unwilling to say, ‘God knows this; but who am I?’

~St Peter of Damaskos