Memories of God

A week ago today 15 of the Columbia District clergy went to the top of Mt. Mitchell for 3 days of retreat. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Things are so busy right now. I have consultations every hour on the hour for the next 3 weeks. I have charge conferences to preside over every night. This past Friday night I had to work in a SPRC meeting dealing with church conflict. Yesterday was 3 charge conferences plus two sermons, one filling in for a preacher who had a heart cath on Friday. I’m whipped but here I am back at it. Such is the life of a United Methodist District Superintendent, but, thank God for Sabbath rest when it comes.

Thank God for memories, too. Sometimes I fall asleep thinking/praying about God’s grace and providence. I remember my parents, other family members, special events like great times with Cindy or Narcie, Josh, and Caleb. I think about their weddings, graduations, the joy of hearing them preach and grow, become parents to Enoch, Evy, And Kaelea. I think about being in a tent for two weeks for two years in a row with Caleb and can feel the gentle breeze while sleeping ever so soundly. I just wrote a note for a friend who is about to go on the Walk to Emmaus Spiritual Life Weekend reminding him of how often I have seen God in his life. I’ll never forget how he came and sat up all night with me in the hospital as my Dad was dying. Last night as I preached revival I was blessed to see many friends from a former church that I served. Good and poignant memories flooded my mind.

I am rereading Roberta Bondi’s Memories of God. It is a sublime reminder of God’s presence in the nodal points of our lives, the hinge-moments that shape our theology and understanding of God. The narrative of God intersects with our narrative and Jesus’ incarnation is made personally real. In twenty-minutes I have my first consultation of today and they go straight through until late this afternoon when I head to a charge conference. It is good to start the day with memories of God. They are fresh every day and get me through it. I took the above photos last Monday and they will serve me well as good memories of God’s unfailing presence! Soak up the memories so that they will last. Dwell on them so that they inspire you. Have a great week.

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Above the Din

Sunset from Campsite #2 on Mt. Mitchell

I watched some of the families and survivors of 9/11 this morning before I went to church. It was very meaningful, in fact, maybe more so ten years later than it was at the time. I was a very distracted person ten years ago. I’m no less busy now, but maybe I’m more reflective. Perhaps it was 9/11 that had something to do with that. Maybe it was the need for time away in the cacophony that comes from the tyranny of the urgent. Anyway, listening to the recorded phone messages from those who perished on 9/11, and hearing their families experiences of reassurance was powerful. I heard a theme of God’s presence and it gave comfort.

For the past ten years, truly since I was a little boy, I have found that kind of reassurance on top of Mt. Mitchell. Solitude and reflection are easy to come by up there. I went there as a teenager to sense God’s call. All alone. Me and God. I went back during college a number of times. I have been going there multiple times a year ever since just to be, to listen, to soak up God’s presence. It’s such a beautiful and awe-inspiring place. It’s the highest mountain east of the Rockies. It’s always 30 degrees cooler than South Carolina. There are balsam and spruce and it smells like Christmas year round. It snows every month of the year. It’s a Canadian climate zone. There are no showers, but they have a restroom and two hand pumps for water. There are only 9 campsites so you’re never really overwhelmed by noise. The photo is from just a few weeks ago when I went with a fellow clergy friend to scout things out for our district retreat. He’s spending the night with us tonight and in the morning 15 of the Columbia District clergy are heading up for our yearly retreat. I wish more were going, but we do have some newbies. I hope they will find it as wonderful as I think it is.

We all need a place to hush our runaway minds. Perhaps you have read one of the many versions of the story that I will call “The Overflowing Tea.” The setting changes, but the cast of characters remains the same. There’s always a wise monk or hermit living in a remote place, and an earnest student who has made a pilgrimage to see him, traveling a long distance to find the teacher who will give him all the answers that he needs about life. The student arrives with all kinds of questions and the teacher just sits there saying nothing. The student asks for his questions to be answered. The teacher finally says, “Pour me a cup of tea and I will tell you when to stop.” The student pours away and keeps pouring as the tea overflows the cup. Exasperated the student speaks up, “Can’t you see the cup is full? It can hold no more!” “And so it is with you,” the wise teacher replies. “Your mind full of too many things. Only when you are empty will there be room for more knowledge to come in.”

I am headed to Mt. Mitchell to open my mind to God and others, or maybe it’s better said that I’m going to open my mind to God THROUGH others. We will hike together, laugh together, eat and fellowship together – know God together. Distractions will be few because cell service is non-existent up there. We will have a wonderful fire and hopefully it will warm our souls with God’s comforting presence. It’s the day after 9/11 for a lot of people. Listen to God’s voice above the din of sirens and tears. Aren’t we all ready for that extraordinary sense of God? Yep!

Mt. Mitchell at Midnight

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I just got back from our Columbia District Clergy Retreat on top of Mt. Mitchell in Western North Carolina. It is the tallest peak east of the Rockies, 6,684 feet. It was 30 degrees cooler and the weather was absolutely perfect. I have been there so many times when we had lots of wet weather, or the wind was 50 mph. These past three days were perfect.

The sky was so clear that 4 of us hiked up to the summit in the dark. The Milky Way was hovering over us, and the Big Dipper seemed so close that you could reach out and touch it. The photo above is the four of us standing on top of the observatory at about midnight. It was awesome! One thing that hit me is that darkness helps you see what would normally be invisible. There are dark times in our lives: uncertainty, anxiety about health, finances, ministry, etc. God light shines best when we allow our eyes to adjust to the darkness and see the unseen yet real presence of God.

The whole retreat was helpful. New friends were made. We shared together our thoughts on Peter Steinke’s book on being a courageous leader without reactivity in the face of anxiety. We ate Black Beans and Rice one night, Chicken Bog with Smoked Sausage; anyway it was GREAT. We did have a bear visit us last night but no injuries and no damage to our tents, just a little excitement.

Anyway, I’ve been taking groups of preachers up to the top of Mitch for 5 years now. Having a quiet place to go above the cell phone towers and the fray of the tyranny of the urgent is important. We ain’t Superman and even he needed a Fortress of Solitude. This was ours for a few blissful days.

With Labor Day approaching and knowing that so many people are feeling stuck in jobs just for the benefits and not a calling, I certainly hope that those who feel like this are able to find a place where there can be responsive reflection and not anxious reactivity. Peace, Peace, Peace – In the dark, God’s light still shines.

Personal Adventures and Family Promises

I’m at Candler School of Theology at Emory and it’s going well – a new group of eager students for the two classes that I’m teaching: “Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit” and “United Methodist Discipline and Polity.” The days have been interesting, getting up early for an 8 am class that goes straight through for two hours, a worship break, then 11:30am-2 pm for the last class. I miss lunch, but I have more time than ever for the afternoon and don’t have to fight the snail pace of North Decatur Rd. to get back to the apartment they have me in at Emory’s Clairmont campus.

I’ve had high hopes of working out in the fitness center, but haven’t made it yet. Maybe tonight, but I have a couple of novels that are calling. I shaved my beard today. It was only a week old, hah! I went to Mt. Mitchell for a week and tent-camped, hiked, graded papers, and got ready for class, no shower and no shaving. I came straight here. This weekend is Laity Convocation at Lake Junaluska so I’ll travel up Saturday morning and meet with the Cabinet then travel to Columbia to spend the night, then go to a Pottery Exhibit Opening in my hometown of Edgefield on Sunday before coming back to Atlanta to teach the final week here at Emory. I can’t wait to see the new groundhog kiln they’re dedicating in Edgefield. They’ve asked me to do the prayer because of my family’s connection to the Edgefield Pottery revival.
Cindy just let me know that old friends have given us their beach place to use in a couple of weeks so that’s wonderful. As much as I like the mountains, there’s no place like the beach to be around Enoch and Evy. Ah…Grandchildren building sandcastles and memories. I can’t wait! Well, that’s enough about my itenrary. I hope you’re all having a great summer. God is good!

Bears Up There or Lions Down Here

I left yesterday afternoon for 6 nights away, dashed to Asheville, stopped at an Ingle’s and bought supplies then drove through the swirling mists of late afternoon to Mt. Mitchell – my Fortress of Solitude though I’m certainly no Superman. The rhododendrum were in perfect bloom and the temp was 30 degrees cooler than Columbia. I got to the peak at 8:45 pm, 15 minutes before closing – ready to unpack, cook some supper, and put on my reading light, crawl into my sleeping bag to read myself to sleep. But… the campground was closed.

I went back down to the ranger station and asked, “What’s up!?” He said that they had several hours earlier shut down the camping area because of BEARS. Several Black Bears had ripped into an occupied tent, no injuries, and two cars – trying to get to food. Therefore, the campground is shut down for the next 9 days. I thought about heading to one of the National Forest roads 5 miles up that you can camp at, but bears could eat my Mini Cooper with too much ease. So I traveled last night up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Crabtree Meadows. I’ve camped and hiked there since college days. It’s not as high in elevation, but the scenery is nice. One problem – it was raining cats and dogs, and I’ve done the put-up-the-tent- in- the- rain deal before. So, with wondering what to do in my heart I went to Spruce Pine and ate at the Burger King, hoping the weather would let up. It got worse and worse. SO… I called Cindy and said, “I’m coming home, it will be late, don’t be frightened.” It rained all the way home until 15 miles from Columbia. I crawled into bed a little after 2 a.m. with a weird afternoon and evening’s journey under my belt. I did get to feel the 58 degree air and see the balsam and douglas firs, the swirls of clouds, and the flowers, but I’m back!
But today it’s been one phone call and email after another and another about either ill or well-intentioned dragons in churches, screwy decisions, and making interpretations about the Book of Discipline. Power and control people have been sharp on my heels all day. Here is where I am right now: I rather be eaten by the bears up there than by the lions down here. What does that mean? If you have ever had to work with people, especially church people – you know. I may just pack up my car and head back up there, though it won’t be the same if it’s not Mt. Mitchell. I know I can still read my Bible, novels, and eat all the junk food I bought sitting comfortably on my sofa and just not go to work. But thanks to having a cell signal here and a computer, the work comes to me. On Mitchell I’m all alone except for God. So, stay tuned, the mountains are still calling and I’d rather be eaten by bears up there than by the lions down here! Ever felt that way?

The Mountain is Calling!

>The tyranny of the urgent things is killing me. By this time every year I have already been to Mt. Mitchell at least 3-4 times, but not this year. Cindy’s mother has been sick and in and out of the hospital at least 5 times in the last three months so that’s been a priority. Appointment-making for the Cabinet was tough this year with so few retirements and churches cutting salaries out from under positions. There were fewer moves but more attention needed and received for each one. Lately, I’ve been under the gun of trying to make a R-1 Visa application work for a new Korean pastor. We have to resubmit all kinds of info and I’ve pored over detail after detail because we really need this to work out. The Korean pastor is a model of faithfulness. He gave up being a medical doctor in Korea making $300k to being a full-time local pastor here with a Duke M.Div. making in the $30k range. He’s a great guy and that church is going to grow!

Conference whipped me, not at all for the usual reasons. It wasn’t the parliamentarian bit although I can’t have a brain-break when I’m trying to follow all of the discussion and anticipate what amendments or motions might be made. Actually Conference was pretty bland, except for the good preaching and the hoopla over the consitutional amendments. I’m glad we came out 85% to 15% against the worldwide UMC ones. A lot of my energy at conference went to clergy in the Columbia District. I was all over the map literally with 3 trips to McLeod’s Emergency Room in Florence, to driving back after a conference session to see one of the clergy in a Heart Hospital in Columbia. There hasn’t been any let up since last week. Cindy’s mother was back in the Emergency Room, one of our clergy had a heart procedure, another had a purported mild heart attack and hospitalized. Another’s mother died, and another former clergy died yesterday. Wow! I’m praying for everyone to get healthy and stay that way!

So, this coming Tuesday (Cindy doesn’t know yet, so it’s iffy), I’m headed to Mt. Mitchell to be alone, sit and read, hike out to Mt. Craig, and stoke the fire. Yes, at 6684 feet, you need a fire even in June. As John Muir said, “The moutains are calling and I must go!” Where do you go to to escape the tyranny of the urgent?

Trust and Obey

Storm clouds are rolling in. These are scary times with the dips and plummets of the stock market. I’ve been having consultations with pastors. I am sad to admit that fear has replaced expectancy in many. Who wants to ponder retiring next year if a person’s pension fund is in the tank? Who wants to move to a new parish when they’ve just figured out who the snakes are in the parish they’re in? Issues about children, school, spouse’s employment, and parents’ illnesses abound. We want to play it safe in an itinerant adventure.

Playing things safe is a natural tendency for many people. Taking risks has bitten us more often than not. Armchair quarterbacking has been replaced by the safer second-guessing that comes from the sofa. “It’s too dangerous!” is a good thing to say to precocious children, but, if we’re not careful, we may oversell fear to the point that children, or any of us, aren’t given the permission to risk and fail. Risking failure is at the heart of maturity. Wisdom comes from experience, and the only way to get experience is to try something.
 
Risk-taking for growth is so counter-intuitive. It goes so much against the grain of our “Be Safe!” society. One of the most frightening experiences to me was extremely counter-intuitive. I was in a seminary course called, “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” I should have gathered from the title what I might be in for, but naively I went along hoping for a nice camping trip in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Everything was fine with the hiking. It was cold, but not unbearable. Even as this was in the middle of May, there was chest deep snow along the trail through some of the passes. After a week of hiking and camaraderie we had our first stretching experience. Each of us was given a piece of plastic for a tarp and then led off into the woods where we would be alone for three days. I didn’t know where I was. No one was allowed any food so that we had to fast. I did have a water bottle that was surreptitiously refilled each night by someone I never saw or heard.
The first half day was okay with my mind focused on settling in, setting up my tarp, unrolling my gear, etc. That night was a little scarier. We weren’t allowed flashlights, and it was literally pitch-black. The stars were amazing, but the rustling sounds of wildlife kept me on guard. During the night some animal came barreling through my open-ended shelter. It was probably one of the many tiny chipmunks that inhabited the area, but, in my mind, it sounded like it was the size of a wild boar, an impossibility in the Adirondacks.

The next day was spent reading the Bible and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together. What was constantly on my mind frankly wasn’t what I was reading. I kept thinking about food and wondering what time it was. The group leaders confiscated my watch before leading me out into the wilderness. The food issue also possessed my thoughts. I tore through my backpack hoping that a stray M&M had escaped from my gorp bag before it had been absconded. There was nothing to be found. That day lasted forever, it seemed. I was frustrated in every way: bored, grumpy, and totally out of sorts.

The next day was more of the same until mid-day, at least my best guess of mid-day. Finally I gave up on hunger. I quit thinking about time. Nature and God finally pierced my notions of time and space with the extreme beauty of nature and God’s own quiet closeness. The sounds and the silence of the forest became relaxing and exhilarating friends. My reading of the Bible and Bonhoeffer was suddenly charged with a clarity that I had never known before. When darkness came I slept with a contentment that was rare.

Three days of solitude and fasting ended the next morning as I was led back to the group gathering area. All of us were treated to lentil soup and hot tang to reaccustom our stomachs to food. Everyone seemed cleansed, purified, and peaceful. It was great and it was needed. The risk was worth its reward, and it was good preparation for what came next – rappelling down a 1000-foot cliff. Such is life with a wild God leading us, the solitude on the mountain to the valley of overwhelming need. There is no playing it safe.

Thistles & Survival

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Well, we survived Mt. Mitchell and the fellowship was great. I went up a few days early which was wonderful. I got to read some novels and theology and warmed by the campfire. The rest of the group came in this past Monday morning. We set up camp, ate a glorious chicken bog that warmed up our bodies, and had time for a hike and great discussion about church, life, and a little bit of everything else. Then… the bottom fell out of the skies. At 11:30 p.m. Monday night the deluge began. All but two got thoroughly soaked in their tents or hammock. The one in the hammock had a snug tarp but the rain was blowing in horizontally so the tarp had very little effect. We tried to hang in there until daylight but then things got worse. It POURED! We packed up in the downpour as fast as we could, but it was awful. If you have ever had to pack up wet tents and soaked sleeping bags, you know what I mean. We trekked down the mountain and drove to Marion, North Carolina. There we found a restaurant for breakfast. We dried out as best we could and ate a hearty meal. I must admit that it helped to turn on my electric seat warmer to aid the drying process. According to the Mt. Mitchell Weather Station, Tropical Storm/Depression “Fay” dropped 10 inches of rain on Mt. Mitchell. Whew!
 
Well, being back in Columbia has been eventful and the usual – not quite a 10 inch downpour, but close. I’ve been catching up on the unending and regular duties of a District Superintendent which is why I put up the shot of a thistle I took on Monday from the edge of the Old Mitchell trail. Often this call and that of any pastor is like running through thistles – prickly stuff happens on a regular unpredictable basis. I can’t even tell you some of the stuff I have to deal with because of its confidential nature. Suffice it to say, it ain’t pretty sometimes. Very often it’s sad and painful. But, thanks be to God, sometimes being in this office is absolutely wonderful – seeing churches dream new dreams, pastors and other clergy flourish in their ministries, and the Kingdom growing before your very eyes as you hear success stories and dream about new ways of doing ministry across the district.
 
However, it’s my “thistle-times” that put both good and bad in perspective. Thistles remind me that though life can be painful and prickly, even the thistles can be used for good. As a matter of fact, the reason that thistles are the national symbol of Scotland is because thistles were an early warning system for the Scots as their enemies the English stepped on them and yelped in pain. Thistles like “Fay” and all the other things that grab me because of the tyranny of the urgent, can actually throw my yelping soul further into the hands of God. For that I’m grateful as I remember that beautiful thistle before the flood came down. Thistles help us survive!

Companions with Christ

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I’m about to head up again to Mt. Mitchell with a group of the Columbia District clergy. I’m going to head up first and get us some good spots for camping. We’ll be sharing together from Dietrich Bonheoffer’s book Life Together. We will be companions and colleagues as we sit around the fire, talk, and break bread together. The word companion literally means “bread with” or “breadmate.” The main Companion with us on the mountain will be Jesus.
 
Who is Jesus? The answer to this question has ranged from great teacher to God. We have all experienced Christ in a variety of ways. He has certainly been my friend, teacher, healer, savior, and Lord. But, Jesus is more than all of these. He is both God and human. He can identify with what we go through because He is one of us, and He can save us because He is God. With Jesus, we can have it both ways! In Christ, we can sing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” He is both King and Servant.
 
Some people come to Jesus as the Candy of Life. I saw this especially back in the late ‘60’s and early 70’s with the “Jesus Movement.” Jesus was just another piece of candy to addictive people like me. Remember the Doobie Brothers song “Jesus is Just Alright with Me”? Jesus was just another route to a counter-culture lifestyle. It was a candy-loving group-think attitude that saw Jesus as a way to get a “natural high.” This Candy-of-Life mentality about Jesus was short-lived for many. As long as it was hip to be a “Jesus Freak,” then it was cool. When cross-carrying was introduced, a lot of the Jesus Movement evaporated.
 
Other people think of Jesus as the Medicine of Life. I have heard this called “Fox Hole Religion” because a lot of people come to Jesus when they’re in trouble, whether it is in a literal fox hole on a battlefield or in a hospital room. Jesus is the Medicine of Life, but unfortunately there are many who quit taking the medicine when they get well, get home, or otherwise escape from whatever their predicament is. In other words, seeing Jesus only as the Medicine of Life can dissipate when things smooth out.
 
So, Jesus didn’t call Himself either the Candy of Life or the Medicine of Life. He called Himself, “The Bread of Life.” Bread is more than something we need once in awhile when we want something sweet to tide us over. We can’t live off candy. A candy bar on the road can get me by until I get home, but then I need a real meal. Jesus is the Bread of Life – the real meal, the real deal. He is also more than the Medicine of Life. Sure, He wants to heal us, but we will woefully miss the richness of the life that Christ offers us if we only want Him to be our Medicine. Jesus wants us well, and to stay connected to Him. He isn’t a Z-pack or a 30 day dose that we take until we get well. He is the Bread of Life that will sustain us forever.
 
The late Bill Hinson, in his book The Power of Holy Habits, says this about Jesus as the Bread of Life: “I heard an Armenian describe the bread of life. He said that Westerners do not understand what Jesus was saying when he said, ‘I am the Bread of Life.’ In the Middle East, bread is not just something extra thrown in at a meal. It is the heart of every meal. They have those thin pieces of pita bread at every meal. Those strict people would not think about taking forks and putting them in their mouths. To put an object in your mouth defiles it. You certainly would not take a fork out and put it in again and go on defiling yourself like that. Instead, you break off a piece of the bread, pick up your food with it and eat it. Indeed, the only way you can get to the main dish, he said, is with the bread. Jesus was saying that the only way you can come to life is through him. That is why he was saying – I am the Bread of Life; I am the only way to come to life.”
So who is Jesus to us? Is He the heart of the meal, the all-sustaining basis for our very existence? Sure He can thrill us as the Candy of Life, and He can heal us as the Medicine of Life. But, what He does best and in the most enduring fashion is feed us “’til we want no more.”

Garden of Eden or New Jerusalem

With Charge Conferences about to crank up I cannot help but reflect on the tendency I see in struggling churches to look back to the “good old days” rather than to the future. It’s a desire to go back to the Garden of Eden when as Easter People we’re supposed to be headed to the New Jerusalem. It’s a risky thought to look to the future, but looking backwards makes for crooked furrows whether in plowing or being a church. It’s no accident that God put cherubim with flaming swords to guard the entrance to Eden. If we could get back there after having eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and then get another chance to partake of the Tree of Life, too, then we would be doomed forever to know good and evil. The Gospel takes us to a better place, a New Jerusalem, where we can live forever in Christ knowing only good. We need to press past the boundaries of the past, celebrate the good of our history, but keep as our primary objective the risky but Christ-like adventure of the future.

Playing things safe is a natural tendency for many people. Taking risks has bitten us more often than not. Armchair quarterbacking has been replaced by the safer second-guessing that comes from the sofa. “It’s too dangerous!” is a good thing to say to precocious children, but, if we’re not careful, we may oversell fear to the point that children, or any of us, aren’t given the permission to risk and fail. Risking failure is at the heart of maturity. Wisdom comes from experience, and the only way to get experience is to try something.

Risk-taking for growth is so counter-intuitive. It goes so much against the grain of our “Be Safe!” society. One of the most frightening experiences to me was extremely counter-intuitive. I was in a seminary course called, “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” I should have gathered from the title what I might be in for, but naively I went along hoping for a nice camping trip in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Everything was fine with the hiking. It was cold, but not unbearable. Even as this was in the middle of May, there was chest deep snow along the trail through some of the passes. After a week of hiking and camaraderie we had our first stretching experience. Each of us was given a piece of plastic for a tarp and then led off into the woods where we would be alone for three days. I didn’t know where I was. No one was allowed any food so that we had to fast. I did have a water bottle that was surreptitiously refilled each night by someone I never saw or heard.

The first half day was okay with my mind focused on settling in, setting up my tarp, unrolling my gear, etc. That night was a little scarier. We weren’t allowed flashlights, and it was literally pitch-black. The stars were amazing, but the rustling sounds of wildlife kept me on guard. During the night some animal came barreling through my open-ended shelter. It was probably one of the many tiny chipmunks that inhabited the area, but, in my mind, it sounded like it was the size of a wild boar, something impossible in the Adirondacks.

The next day was spent reading the Bible and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together. What was constantly on my mind frankly wasn’t what I was reading. I kept thinking about food and wondering what time it was. The group leaders confiscated my watch before leading me out into the wilderness. The food issue also possessed my thoughts. I tore through my backpack hoping that a stray M&M had escaped from my gorp bag before it had been absconded. There was nothing to be found. That day lasted forever, it seemed. I was frustrated in every way: bored, grumpy, and totally out of sorts.

The next day was more of the same until mid-day, at least my best guess of mid-day. Finally I gave up on hunger. I quit thinking about time. Nature and God finally pierced my notions of time and space with the extreme beauty of nature and God’s own quiet closeness. The sounds and the silence of the forest became relaxing and exhilarating friends. My reading of the Bible and Bonhoeffer was suddenly charged with a clarity that I had never known before. When darkness came I slept with a contentment that was rare.

Three days of solitude and fasting ended the next morning as I was led back to the group gathering area. All of us were treated to lentil soup and hot tang to reacquaint our stomachs to food. Everyone seemed cleansed, purified, and peaceful. It was great and it was needed. The risk was worth its reward, and it was good preparation for the unforeseen adventures that lay ahead.