Thursday, October 28, 2010

Timeless Truth

Slowly, slowly I am revisiting my desert journals and bringing the pages to light. The following words were written the day after climbing Mt. Sinai while continuing our visit at St. Catherine's Monastery.

9.27.10 Early morning
Time does strange things here, and we haven't even gone into the raw wilderness yet. We lie wrapped in cocoons of comfort - warm beds, air-conditioning, a roof over our heads. We are wandering, yet... Something ties us here. What? What do I mean? Let go. I'm tied to my watch and the sense of a certain number of hours of sleep I need. I am tied to the group and the roommate who sleeps beside me. Tied to the convention of the world - the rhythms of others.

I awoke sometime during the night and thought it was morning - thought my roommate was already up and in the shower. I felt rested and ready to start the day. Then I looked at my watch and saw it was still the middle of the night, so I "knew"/thought I should go back to sleep. A similar thing happened the night before. I awoke feeling as though I had slept for hours and realized it had been maybe one or two. Am I so stuck by conventions of time and space? What does it take to let go?

What does all this mean? In Paris, I found my own rhythms - some nights I watched movies until the wee hours. Others I slept early in the evening. Yesterday, a quick nap after climbing Mt. Sinai felt like ten hours of hard sleep. Is that the timelessness of which we speak? Where the telling of a story days before combines with the clicking of hiking sticks to become weaver's needles and our pilgrims' steps of today merge with centuries of others' who have gone before? Did our climbing footsteps encounter the imprint's of Moses? Was my hand holding the palm of an ancient Egyptian or perhaps even God herself when I pressed my fingers into the stone inside the pyramid?

The messages are myriad. Can I decipher them or am I called to let the mystery be? What is truth? Truth comes in moments. It came when I looked into the eyes of the Sinai Christ and know he beckons me. When my fellow pilgrim hours later described the same experience and in one moment we know and we are known. Truth comes when I hear our prayer warrior describe her call for us to have the angels lift us up when we are weary and I remember and know those angels were there. Truth arises when our resident yoga master subtly mentions @ Camelot - "Do you know why camel pose is called camel pose? It's not only for the hump, but also for the kneeling," and then I share with her my "camel" journey over the past months - struggling, breathing,being curious and ultimately having two beautiful camel poses the week before this trip. In that moment, she knows why she said those words to me and not someone else. We are united in ways we cannot fathom.

"I want to hear, and I want to be heard,
I want to eat, and I want to be fed,
I want to be made whole , and I want to make whole,
I want to be united, and I want to unite." Acts of John - Christ Hymn - 3rd Century CE

The longings of our heart cross centuries - cross time. Some say there is no such thing as time. The weaving of the tapestry - the carpet laid out before us by Abraham in his tent at Camelot. We are being woven together in a new story. This sweet band of pilgrims.

Have you ever experienced that sense of timelessness? Those moments of truth where words are not needed to 'Know'? Yesterday, a friend asked me what was the gift I received in the desert. Timelessness was the word that rose to the top. Timeless Truth.

photos ©lucy:

view from St. Catherine's courtyard

Sinai Christ
Abraham's tapestry

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


You must make friends with the shadow or you will die.

A simple sentence written on a marvelous, sunny day in the Sinai desert. You must make friends with the shadow or you will die. I continue to be amazed (although not particularly surprised) by the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that messages I gathered while on pilgrimage continue to follow me home.

The contrast of landscape and weather between fall in the Pacific Northwest and anytime in the desert couldn’t be much greater. We are experiencing deluges of blowing rain. My feet are already threatening to grow webs and the shadows come in the form of muted grays everywhere instead of pockets of charcoal tucked inside sun-soaked rock formations. It is a time of transition from one season to another, from Africa to North America, from spaciousness to city, from ancient wisdom under each footstep to modern tugs for my attention at every turn.

I had a particularly difficult week last week and fortunately already had a session scheduled with my spiritual director. I went in with blank check in hand hoping she had more free time available, because I was certain I needed to spend the day unpacking with her. Alas, we kept to our hour session, but the work continued long after I left her home. Stopping at a nearby park, I pulled out my journal and while watching the turning leaves drift across my path, I let the words flow onto the page. Somewhere tucked inside the outpouring were these words: “Face my own shadows – aloneness – failure – incompetence.” I might as well have added “or you will die.”

Leaving Volunteer Park, I went the “wrong way” and while circling back around, I saw a beautiful golden retriever tied to a post where he was surrounded by lunch pails and pint-sized jackets. He was clearly the watcher for his children who were inside the building doing their own exploring. My heart tugged and I automatically pulled the car over and got out to greet him. He was the risen image of my dear old boy, Curry. He let me pet his coat and stroke his belly as if we’d been old pals forever. I gazed into his chocolate brown eyes and for a moment was lost in time as his unconditional love washed over me. Tears formed as I remembered the grace and care my companion of 13 years had offered to me without reservation. Curious to know who I had just met, I reached under his neck for his dog tags while asking, “What’s your name boy?” Turning over the silver medal, the name appeared in bold letters: SHADOW.

Need I say more? The message was clear to me – my own shadows long for unconditional love and care. They don’t deserve to be dismissed or shoved aside just because they’re uncomfortable. Desert? Rain-soaked earth? The message is still the same. I must make friends with my shadow or I will die.

Today I invite you to consider the places tucked in the shadows of your being that are waiting to be befriended. Today would be a great day to give your shadow a little light – no matter where you live ☺.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm Joining the Abbey for Advent!

Fall has settled nicely into the Pacific Northwest and with that our thoughts begin to turn toward the holidays. It is with great pleasure and excitement that I announce my newest collaboration with Abbey of the Arts. For those of you near and far, here's an opportunity to enter into the season of Advent alongside me and a host of inspirational artists. I invite you to peruse the following information and consider giving yourself this gift of online retreat.

Early Registration is now open for Abbey online classes!

Birthing the Holy: An Online Creative Journey through Advent and Christmas
November 28, 2010 – January 9, 2011
Program fee of $125 includes weekly reflections and daily emails by Christine Valters Paintner on six themes of the creative journey, plus 10 songs by River's Voice, guided movement prayer videos by Betsey Beckman and her storydance of the Annunciation, and facilitated SoulCollage® experiences with Kayce Stevens Hughlett (aka lucy).

Join us for a six-week online retreat in everyday life for the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Let this winter be a transformative journey of deepened commitment to your creative practice.

Pre-register before November 1st and receive a free copy of Crossing the Threshold: New Year, New Beginnings.

Click HERE for more information and to register. Hope to see you there!!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bedouin Empress

My posts have been long and filled with my journey to Egypt. I’m finding it nearly impossible to drift away from that place for very long – nor do I want to move away from it. As you might imagine, many things were stirred in me and it is in the “unpacking” that I find even more depth.

Recently, my group work has revolved around the archetypal energy of the empress and/or sovereign. There has been much conversation and exploration about what it means to embrace one’s inner sovereign. A question that seems to arise time and again in a “First World Country” (if I even know what that means) is the idea of how easy it is to claim sovereignty, power, health, privilege, etc. when these things surround us in abundance. What would happen if I were poor? Could I still embrace a sense of wealth?

Last week, when talking about the Empress and these questions were posed, one “Empress” became fully present in my mind. It wasn’t Queen Elizabeth or Michelle O’Bama or Melinda Gates, but rather a Bedouin woman I met in Egypt. By most standards this woman would be considered poor and living in poverty. But I had to ask myself the question, does she think she’s poor?

I encountered her as we were leaving the desert and dropping our Bedouin cook off at his home. The jeep I was in arrived later than the rest and we were asked not to disembark due to time constraints. The pull to leap from the car and mingle with the children, goats and others was strong and only our guide’s firm request to stay put kept us all in the car. However, in the brief moments we waited, this woman – indefinable in age 50? 80? 100? - approached our vehicle and reached her hand out to each one of us. Language was unnecessary as she took my palm in hers and offered me the gift of her eyes. This woman is an Empress – one who stands solidly in who she is, invites others into her realm and does not know the meaning of scarcity. She is sovereign over her world and makes sure that those within her kingdom are welcomed.

She has given me much pause to consider what my own inner Sovereign looks like and what she values. Is it jewels and extravagance? Even that is hard to ask, because my definition of those two things is shifting. The jewels I value most right now are a few stones, a fossil and a piece of coral. Extravagance is resting under a billion stars with only a sleeping bag to shelter my body. And my Empress? Well… her sovereignty lies in a castle that looks quite different from the fairy tales.

Ponder alongside me, won’t you… Where does your Sovereign reside? What are the jewels that wrap your Empress or Emperor? How do you define wealth?

photos ©lucy
bedouin girls
empress lucy & her noble, bella
bedouin palace

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A New SIlence...

"When you travel,
A new silence goes with you,
And if you listen, you will hear
What your heart would
Love to say." John O'Donohue


Today was a day spent learning of the reverence and preparation for death and ending with the celebration of new life through marriage. Two weddings graced our presence as we moved from the Pyramids Park Hotel to Novotel. In between were times of laughter, illness, crowded spaces, ancient wisdom and miles of forged friendships.

We started the day at the Pyramids of Giza. Pinching ourselves, we couldn't believe we were standing on the ground of the Pharaohs. The massive structures rising out of the rocky sand. How DID they do that? Three large pyramids flanked by three smaller for the wives and three more for the mothers.

Camels and Tourism Police surrounded the perimeter while peddlers hawked their wares for "very good price." Hany, our guide, had warned us to be on guard here. That "very good price" quickly went up and thievery was not uncommon in this clime. As we walked from the bus toward our first destination, an earnest and kind Egyptian handed me a small blue scarab then asked how many children I had and handed me another for my 2nd child. As I continued my walk, he handed me more gifts for my son and daughter as I graciously thanked him while keeping my stride. Finally he was through handing me presents and I kept walking. Then the quiet request came, "Just a small amount of money, please?" "No, thank you," I replied and handed back the treasures. Our dance of commerce had ended with no monetary exchange and only the memory to remain in my heart.

After viewing the Great Pyramid, we went to the vista point and saw the six pyramids all in a row with the mother's tucked safely behind their sons. Hany filled us with details and facts and then Regina invited us to pause with the silence. Pilgrims spread out, some sat, some stood, all gazed. Sitting side by side on the retaining wall, Regina and I let the breeze lift our spirits as we felt the feathers of Ireland and eternity swirl around us.

The magic continued as it was time to visit the inner chamber of the Second Pyramid. Well-prepped by our guides, we knew it would be a cramped and potentially strenuous path. Nine brave souls entered the opening toward the tomb. Crouched in a slumped walk to fit under the 4-foot ceiling , my head gently bounced off the ancient stone until I found a more pleasing rhythm to make my way up the ramp. Following my roommate, Deb, we kept a nice pace while still pausing to touch the solid walls where so many hundreds of thousands had gone before. A few yards crouched and a few standing up until we entered the sacred chamber.

Barren except for an empty sarcophagus and a few modern lights, it felt like we had entered the center of the earth. No claustrophobia for me, only a beckoning from the far wall to place my hand-print in the space where others hands had lain. Next followed my other hand and then my forehead until I was locked in a slow dance with this ancient mystery. The quiet was profound and immense and it held for several moments - long enough, in fact, that I finally opened my eyes to see if everyone else had evaporated. Yet there stood my fellow compatriots - Deb, Mary, Don & Marie-Josee. We had been granted a miracle moment. With thousands of tourists outside, this handful of pilgrims were offered the gift of silence and connection inside this ancient wonder of the world.

I slowly moved around the perimeter, stopping by the open burial crypt and proceeding clockwise until I stood before the very place of my slow waltz. There above the invisible impression where my forehead touched the cool stones was the word I heard the day before inside the Alabaster Mosque - BE. Just a few unremarkable letters were inside this sparse space, and I chose to stand below - unbeknownst to me - the very letters that chose me the day before. Blessed Be. God is in this place. I tapped Arleen (who had drifted in) upon the arm and showed her my confirmation. Goosebumps ran down both our spines. The magic of this place continued...

Finally, the still small voice inside me said, "Enough" and I knew it was time to go. Just as I exited the chamber and started down the narrow ramp, hoards of Japanese tourists pushed past me and I knew the silence of the chamber was no more. Blessed be. O'Donohue's words were perfect for this day, "A new silence goes with you..." And the serendipity continued as I read the bookmark given by Regina that day:

"These sites that call forth reverence and awe and humility and wonder, we make them sacred, and the ancient ties are never lost, the oldest voices calling from within the stones." James Houston

What are the sites that call forth reverence, awe, humility and wonder for you today? It certainly doesn't have to be inside a great pyramid. Remember, a new silence goes with you each day...

photos ©lucy - sites of Giza

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A City of Surprises - Cairo

September 23, 2010 Pre-Pilgrimage Old Coptic Cairo and Islamic Cairo

"Lord, awaken me from the sleep of desire
That makes me oblivious to my
heart's longing.
Lift the illusion that hides the truth
That giving up self is really gaining." Sapira Journal

Waking up in Cairo. Where did the past two days go? Lost amidst planes and flying hours - learning to practice my presence with seat mates, kicking toddlers & foreign ambassadors. Meeting and greeting my fellow travelers, then venturing into this vast city of Cairo and praying jet lag will not cloud the magnificence of this experience. Using my breath to lead the way. I crave filling my lungs with fresh air. Two inhales. Two exhales. YHWH. Visiting the Coptic churches, Amma Regina reminds us God is as near as our breath.

Now I sit outside the Coptic Museum - enclosed spaces and jet lag taking their toll. I can walk or stand no longer. I am pulled toward sunshine and fresh air. Sitting on the sandstone ledge, I know my shirt will be covered with Cairo dust. Letting go has already begun and I sink back against the solid wall. This morning we've traveled through the Coptic churches in the enclosed area of Old Cairo. We've learned Coptic actually means Egyptian although many like to classify Coptic as Christian Egyptians (a population of 5% in this 95% Muslim city).

Our personal Egyptologist, Hany (pronounced Honey), leads the way with worlds of knowledge enthusiastically spilling from his mind and mouth. His heavy accent brings lovely new adaptations to old words like Deuteronomy and Pentateuch. We travel through the narrow alleys learning to say, "La la-la" (No No) to the hawkers of their "special ware." The day doesn't seem so hot, although a trickle of sweat slides its way down my back. Listening to the voices surrounding me, I can make no sense of this Arabic language that sounds guttural, but seems to come mostly from the throat. I'm saddened that the first word I've learned is "no" although perhaps I could slide "Salaam" in there and find rest with "go in peace."

I've been reminded today that I don't prefer history lectures and group tours, but rather enjoy the small and tiny sections of life - a backlit tree of life in a 4th century church - the trill of a bird I cannot see or name. I am grateful for Regina who invites us to slow down and reminds us to touch the portals and gates as we enter new territory. A dragon fly drifts by and I'm curious about the message she has to offer. I could lay down and sleep right here in this ancient courtyard pressed against hard stone. The breeze calls to me to drift and move back outward - onward.


Today was a day of attuning to the voices around - calls to Midday prayer, haunting and beautiful in the same moment - pleading vendors - laughing children - weary pilgrims - new-found friends.

When journeying in an unknown land, can a smile be enough? In the midst of the maze-like bazaar, a tattered vendor gives thanks for a beautiful smile. A pilgrim grieves over the poverty surrounding us. Do our "hosts" believe they are impoverished? Cairo exudes the mystery of a city both ancient and half-finished all at the same time. We are reminded of Marco Polo and his stories to the Great Kublai Khan as he says:

"Your footsteps follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within... many are the cities like "Cairo", which elude the gaze of all, except the (wo)man who catches them by surprise." Sapira Journal

Did we catch the city by surprise today or did it catch us?
Following our trip to Old Cairo, we entered The Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha or Alabaster Mosque. We were met by the call of tinkling bells as the wind whispered through the magnificent chandelier. Shoes in hand, we entered this sacred place and waited to hear our own 100th name in our hearts. Words drifted through my mind - were the whispers my own or Another's? Tinkle Bell - Breath - Breathe - Breeze - Beauty - Be - Be still and know that I am God - BE.

The pull to stay here was strong. Spread across the tapestry rug, we, pilgrims, commingled with God, Allah, the 99 beautiful names as well as fellow travelers from around the world. A little girl caught our eye with her curly locks and sassy walk as she moved toward and away from her own family including her mother in full burka. Many of us pondered the question of when this little beauty would come to an age and be draped in black from head to toe. Would she look forward to this right of passage? Would she rebel? Those questions, however, were wrapped in the future and at that moment it was time for us to don our shoes and move from here.

Our next stop was the Cairo bazaar. Our first adventure included finding local bathroom facilities as we dug in our wallets for Egyptian pounds and searched our pockets for tissues and hand sanitizer. The brilliance of color and winding pathways felt like something straight out of a Middle Eastern movie. I could envision a chase scene where the heroine (or hero) knocked aside stacked baskets, swung from brightly colored scarves and swooped in and out of narrow passageways to escape the ensuing villain. Scarves, trinkets, and hidden treasures were tucked in every nook and cranny. Vendors promised they had the "best price" on all their wares and if you showed the slightest interest, the game of negotiation began. Intimidating to some, it reminded me of bargaining in Cozumel or Cancun - although here with a level of hospitality I was just beginning to see as wonderfully Egyptian. Alas, our time in this place felt too short to me. I would have loved to wander slowly (slowly) through the pathways and practice my negotiating skills for jewelry and scarves (a practice near-well perfected by our dear, Regina.)

Loading up the bus and heading back toward the Pyramids Park Hotel, we made a slight detour at an authentic Egyptian Cotton store. A few of us opted to stay on the bus while others emerged in a short while with treasures for loved ones - including themselves! Today, I caught a better glimpse of the Nile and then the pyramids rising through the haze like my own Mt. Rainier peaking out of the clouds - majestic, haunting, & ancient beyond belief.

The contrasts of this city are full of surprise. A woman passenger in royal purple burka rides sidesaddle on the back of a scooter. A donkey pulls the family cart amidst taxis, buses and automobiles via intersections with no traffic signs. Horses graze between buildings and a camel trots down the street with master atop the gaily decorated hump. Indeed a mixture of sights, sounds and surprise.

Back home, we parted ways to dine and rest. My evening included a light dinner, followed by a full Egyptian moon, gentle breeze, strawberry shisha, laughter, fun, fellowship and a photo by Andre Bottecelli's photographer. What a day!!!

"I will commune with my own heart upon my bed,
and be still... I will both lay me down in peace,
and sleep: for thou, DEEP SILENCE, only makest
me dwell in care." - Susan Muto

photos ©lucy
  • steeples in coptic cairo
  • "tree of life" - 4th century
  • old cairo alleyway
  • view from alabaster mosque and me :)
  • glimpses at the bazaar

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looming Giants - Cairo continued...

September 22, 2010

Cairo was right outside my car window although I could have been in any city in the world for all I could see. Behind the cover of darkness, Ancient Memphis spoke to me. It felt like we were traveling on a major highway as lights and billboards whizzed by the window. My fellow passenger mentioned something about the "ring road". Simultaneously images of "the Loop" surrounding Houston, Texas entered my mind. Later, I would learn my instincts were not far off as Ring Road circles the outer edges of Cairo thus bypassing the slower, more crowded inner city streets.

We approached an area where the lights spread out and calm descended on my soul. I noticed tables set up along a sidewalk and people milling about enjoying the warm evening air. What was odd was the tables weren't set up along storefronts and their backdrop was solid with only a spattering of light. It was a curious scene for me to witness, all in the matter of a few seconds. Before I could ask where we were, the surrounding streetlights thickened again and my companion said matter-of-factly, "You've just crossed the Nile."

What? You're kidding me? I've just crossed one of the greatest rivers in the world and no one told me until we were past it? My disappointment swelled, and my senses tingled because I knew something great had just touched me. The immensity surrounding me was tangible, even though I couldn't see anything other than dots of light pockmarking the indigo night. Later, I would learn that in the daylight one can also see the pyramids of Giza from the route we were on. Those giants had hovered over me in darkness, not dissimilar to Mount Rainier guarding the city of Seattle and her surrounding towns.

Thus the mystery deepened. The water of the Nile called to me like the sidewalks of Paris. I longed to sit and gaze at what I knew not - to join the locals at their wrought iron tables and feel the warmth of the night air wash over my tired bones. I imagine to gaze at the Nile is to feel the streams of eternity. The pull of the water was like the movement of tides. Even under cover of darkness, I knew something was there. The tug was tangible - not unlike my call to come to this faraway place. Was I witnessing my year of water co-mingling with this desert environ?

I read once that the things we are drawn to are pieces of brokenness unbreaking back together. Unbreaking back together. Was this a moment of 'unbreaking' for me? By crossing the Nile was I gathering puzzle pieces of my existence? This trip found me on the edge of moving and flowing with water's adaptability which is not unlike sand's. Just when I think I have things all figured out or there are no more spaces to fill, another drop or grain shows up. Sometimes I am filled to the top and overflow. Those are the moments of wholeness when I am connected to the universe with every atom of my body. Instants profound, yet fleeting, because I shift ever so slightly and let my humanity slip in through anger or disappointment and the water spills or dries up or the sand shifts and blows away. Is the moment gone? Or can I experience it as offering more room and space to gather and heal my brokenness? Early in this journey, the moments were already aligning like the giant stones at the base of Giza.

As you walk through your days, I invite you to notice how the moments align. Perhaps they are only recognizable in hindsight, like my realization of the Nile. How will you be present to what surrounds you even when you cannot see?

photos ©lucy
  • Crossing the Nile (daytime)
  • The Pyramids of Giza
  • Base of the Great Pyramid

What do you need?

Today is Express Your Needs Day. I found this movement at Evenstar Art and decided I'd play along. The goal is to make a sign and hold it up for what you need. Today (and most days) I'm finding this:

Wordle: i need to write

Fortunately, they said your sign doesn't need to be pretty. Won't you play along? If you don't want to make a sign or have time to make one, (because maybe you need to sleep or work or play or something else besides make signs) then feel free to leave your "need" here. I'd love to know!!!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mt. Sinai

Two weeks ago today, I climbed the Mountain - Mt. Sinai. In many ways it was a focal part of this journey - not always for me, but often in the telling for others. It is a place people can imagine in their minds and possibly connect or relate. It's the place where folklore says Moses received the Ten Commandments. It's a destination even those who don't know much about the Bible recognize. The climb is physical, so athletes and adventurers see the appeal to it. It's the place I often mentioned when talking of going to the desert, "I'm going to climb Mt. Sinai."... and so I did. Yet each time I think of it, I remember foremost the drudgery and the day doesn't float to the top of my memory list from the trip.

Today, however, it is the place I am called to write about. I made a collage for that day the night before we climbed and this morning when I looked at that small piece, I heard in my soul, "It was hard AND there was Freedom." Each stone below my foot a reminder to pay attention. Heel, toe, heel, toe. Focusing on balance and presence to keep myself safe on the rocky terrain. Heel, toe, heel, toe. Each stone a reminder of those who go before me today, tomorrow, yesterday. Heel, toe, heel, toe. One foot in front of the other all the way up and all the way down for eight-plus hours. (An interesting side line - when I first wrote "heel, toe, etc.", it came out "heal, toe". I haven't quite decided which spelling is correct...)

Why do I recall the drudgery of this mountain? The Freedom looked different than I expected. So, what did I expect? A mountain top experience, of course! Silly me. Each day is a mountain top yet somehow I've managed to forget that regarding Mt. Sinai. Still, the words "Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground" come to my mind. Here is my journal entry from that evening:

"In you we are bound to one another, linked by threads seen and unseen, destined for love in eternity, when all that has been decayed is restored." J. Cotter

Today we pilgrims climbed the mountain - ten in reality and four in spirit with countless others around the world through space and time holding us in prayer. Our dear Sister J led the way as she mounted her camel before dawn (4:30 a.m.) to meet us @ Camelot for sunrise. Like a regal princess warrior in the moonlight, I dubbed her Queen of Sheba.

I didn't particularly like this day until I started connecting the threads through the eyes of my fellow pilgrims. The day started with laughter as my roommate's barking dog alarm sounded, followed quickly by my revving motorcycle @ 3:30 a.m. They were sharp sounds in this monastic environment and the silliness of it combined with the early hour and probably our own excitement sent us into giggling fits.

Our group met in the courtyard just before 4:00 a.m. The sun was still asleep, but the brilliant autumn moon glowed in the darkness. We were saddened to learn we would be two pilgrims short for the trek, however, comforted by the place they would hold for us at the foot of the mountain. Later as the pieces wove together, I knew their prayers were pivotal in our experience and they were with us every step of the way. Quietly, Dr. Rabia walked us to the edge of the monastery (which sits cradled at the base of the mountain) and then our guide, Hussein, took over.

With a waning moon of just over 1/2 full, our path was lit with no need for our flashlights and so the threads began. Our pace was slow - almost painfully so at first. I had to check in with myself and heed my inner voice that said, "Hurry up. Get going." Others must have been feeling the same thing, because one of our spiritual guides reminded us of how often excitement can get in our way and going at a steady pace would serve us well.

The serpentine of pilgrims slowly wound our way up and around the rocky paths and for what seemed like hours, we didn't even know which peak we were attempting to ascend. These mountains are layered upon each other, tucked together, making it impossible from the base to tell one from the other. They are unlike my home mountain of Rainier that stands like sentry for miles over the surrounding land.

There was a party of Greek pilgrims staying at St. Catherine's, too, who made the climb at midnight. They began to dribble by and pass us on their way down along with Bedouins and their camels offering rides to weary travelers. At times I considered taking a ride to break the dull monotony of walking so slowly on the dusty trail. We passed one ramshackle snack shack and then another until we met Sr. J in Camelot* @ Abraham's Tent for coffee, tea and the breakfast we carried in our backpacks. We had been climbing for just over two hours. (*Lest you miss the humor, Camelot is the highest place on the mountain that camels can ascend... thus this is their parking lot. It would be many more narrow steps before we reached the actual summit.)

As we sat on the worn Bedouin blankets, snacking on bread rolls, cheese, honey, apricot jam and hard-boiled eggs, the sun made its appearance over the horizon. Layers of color tinted the air as dawn turned into day and outlines of mountain peaks materialized before our eyes. The sounds of Bedouin chatter, belching camels and other pilgrims danced in the air, punctuated by the occasional whistle of a bird. More than once someone said aloud, "Can you believe it? We're here on Mt. Sinai watching the sunrise!"

On the not-so-romantic side, after breakfast we found ourselves making necessary treks to the WC (water closet sans water), where we thanked God for our strong thigh muscles and mothers who had taught us at an early age to squat and hold our nose all at the same time. After our "ablutions," we gathered inside the tent for our morning liturgy. This was one of my absolute favorite moments of the day. As we began to set the space, our host, Abraham, graciously offered a beautiful cloth and spread it on our altar of well-worn wood. It was a piece both stunning in its magical appearance and the contrast of the rich tapestry inside a makeshift teahouse. Our host's humble gesture taught us all much about hospitality and how beauty permeates the most unexpected places.

The threads of our journey continued as our sacristans lit one candle and generously offered it around the circle. From the small flame, we each inhaled and breathed its precious gifts. My mind drifted back to St. Bridget's well in Ireland and my holy time with another pilgrim where I then, as now, was overcome with emotion and blessings offered without words. Following the ritual of the fire, poetry, scripture and our song leader's voice filled the air. My heart burst with joy at the immensity of this simple gathering and the awareness we were meeting together in a Bedouin tent - pilgrims in the desert - much as it could have been in the time of Moses. We were united where thousands - perhaps millions - of others had gathered for centuries. "Take off your shoes for surely this is holy ground." Giggles escaped my throat as the camel's guttural noises punctuated the Holy silence. Amen. Blessed be.

Why is it not this moment that comes first to my mind when I think of Sinai? Perhaps it will be now. Perhaps I just needed to dust the sand off my memories and remember that this morning on Mt. Sinai I walked on holy ground.

This holy day, I invite you to consider what memories of your own may beckon to have the dust removed. Take off your shoes for surely this ground is holy. Amen. Blessed be.

photos ©lucy
  • pre-climb collage/journal page
  • Sr. J & her steady mount
  • view from Camelot
  • sunrise on Mt. Sinai
  • pilgrim C & Hussein

Friday, October 08, 2010


Welcome to the beginning of my Egyptian journey! I'd love to hear your thoughts and wonder if you have questions and or topics you'd like to hear more about surrounding this adventure. Please feel free to comment and let me know what's on your mind. Mine is still settling into US time while absorbing the adventures of the last weeks.

September 22, 2010

Arriving in a city after dark has always held particular intrigue - especially when approaching a city I've never before visited. Bleary-eyed from 20 hours of travel and a few time zone changes, I begin to catch my first glimpse of Cairo, the largest city on the African continent. With inhabitants of more than 6 million people and another 10 million in the surrounding areas, it is a vast sea of twinkling light as we approach in evening's dusk.

From my window seat I quickly snap a photo of the setting sun and the reality of where I am landing begins to invade my body. My senses perk up as I hear the Air France flight attendant announce in three languages (English, French and Arabic) our approach into the City of a Thousand Minarets. Not being a geography or history buff or business traveler, many might wonder what I (a lone woman) am doing flying into a Middle Eastern country on this September evening. On this final leg of my journey from Paris to Cairo, I have been gifted the luxury of no seat companion - an amazing thing in itself on a predominantly full flight. The brilliance of solitude fades briefly as I realize I have only myself to rely upon as I enter this new world, however, neither fear nor panic strike me at this moment.

Deplaning, we passengers exit our steel cocoon and are shuttled onto an airport bus that will carry us to the main international terminal. Brilliant yellow lights displaying "Cairo International Airport" move past the bus window. It is a scene I've lived in other cities (sans the Cairo sign) and feels somewhat ordinary for the time being. As we leave the bus and enter the terminal, the reality that I'm in a foreign land blasts into my awareness. Having braved sending my passport to the Egyptian Embassy in the US, my travel visa is already stamped in my passport, so I can forgo the confusion of trying to purchase one now. I fall into line behind a man I take to be British and hope I'm in the right queue. All the while, my eyes are scanning the handbills held by local drivers seeking their passengers as I navigate my way through zealous cab drivers offering me passage. "No, thank you, " I murmur while shaking my head and praying my driver will appear soon.

After moving through the passport check without incident, I edge toward the luggage carousel and await my bags. I am jostled by large men hoisting huge suitcases with little awareness of a petite woman standing in their midst. It is not unfamiliar to home. Again, I scan to see the sign for Abanoub Travel without success. Finally, my two small bags are in my possession and I realize it's time to resort to plan b for transportation. I begin to rummage through my carry-on bag for phone numbers and wish I'd paid more attention to things like international codes and calling protocol on my iPhone. The crowd has thickened as we travelers approach the final turnstile that will release us into the world outside the airport. Suddenly, like a sign from heaven my misspelled name comes into focus. It is held in the hands of a young, roundish man with thinning wavy hair, glasses that match his shape and a welcoming smile. He recognizes the look of relief on my face that I'm sure he's seen a thousand times when picking up others. We introduce ourselves and his name is quickly lost in the buzz of the electric evening air. Still, my body relaxes as my temporary guardian carries my bags and we begin to weave through the maze of human bodies toward our car.

Moments like this are so surreal to me. I've seen them in movies a million times, planned this trip for months, yet hadn't considered this actual moment of my own arrival. It is one played out in cities all over the world, nearly every minute of the day. A traveler arrives in a new city. My history is being written right now as I step into a land I've only read about in history books. I am not just arriving in Cairo, but Cairo is arriving in me. Like two lovers meeting under the cloak of darkness, our eyes have met. Will this city hold my gaze? What will be revealed in the days to come? Will she receive me or cast me off as just another casual lover? I wish I could see her in the light. I can feel the secrets she holds, but the light is unnatural and the wattage too low for visual clarity. Still, I feel her pulsing vibrancy. I hear the language shift quickly from English to Arabic and know the mystery is deepening and being revealed even in this seemingly ordinary moment.

photos © lucy
  • landing in Cairo
  • sign while traveling toward the Sinai desert
  • Cairo airport

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


I've been home from Egypt for three days now. Re-entry has been kind. While busy, I continue to remind myself to take things "slowly, slowly" - a practice offered daily by our wonderful guide and friend Abba Rabia. My body is starting to reset itself - adjusting to the 10 hour time difference and a missed diet of leafy greens and granola.

The dreams that began in the desert continue to be vivid and speak to the depth of this place from where I've come. I have resisted turning on a DVD or Netflix and instead have drifted to sleep reading "Walking the Bible" - picking up where I left off in the Sinai. Stories of Mount Sinai, Father Justin (an American monk residing at St. Catherine's Monastery), burial tombs and Bedouin take on new and more significant meaning now. I have walked those places and met these people. They are imprinted in my DNA.

It's challenging to answer inquiries such as, "Tell me about your trip..." Where do I even begin? My initial response when asked for highlights, most often turns to my time spent wandering and camping in the desert.

"People coming to the desert discover that they are drinking from truth. And people become more at peace with themselves because of this truth, this quiet." Ramadan - a Bedouin from "Walking the Bible."

I have drunk from the truth of the desert. Tasted the painted landscape - the dying Acacia - crumbling rock - shade-seeking lizard - wise camels and their Bedouin leaders. I have been washed in the silence of the early morning and the brilliance of a billion stars - the grit of sand reaching into every nook and cranny. I have felt the freedom of standing naked in a barren landscape blending into and resembling finely chiseled stone.

The earth pulses in the desert. It speaks of ancient times while holding only now. Am I surprised to return home during the week celebrating St. Francis when we are called to recognize the strength and beauty of human nature and its mirror in all of creation?

The desert mirrored beauty back to me - even as my skin grew gritty, my mosquito bites blossomed into epic plague and my hair took on new designs of its own unwashed creation. I was the lizard seeking the cool shade - the camel gently rocking across uneven sand - the mother bird fiercely protecting her nest - and the painted desert floor swirling with patterns few paintbrushes would dare create.

I am home now. What does that mean?

"Wherever you are, if you are close to God, you are close. If you are far away, you are far away. It doesn't matter where you live. It matters what you feel." Anastasis - Monk @ St. Catherine's from "Walking the Bible."

I am home now. I was home there. I have learned to take home with me like a true pilgrim - one who carries my heart wherever I go. I am home and the Sinai is a part of my soul - imprinted in my heart and every fiber of my being. I am home.

Welcome to this space, my friend. Tell me... where do you find home?

Sinai Desert, 2010 ©lucy

Monday, October 04, 2010


There is a place where timelessness resides. Where if you let go of past, present and future, all become one and you can feel the heartbeat of the earth. You can hear the pulse of eternity and witness the birth of creation. I have been to that place.

sinai desert 2010 © lucy