Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ghost Ranch Gathering: Into The Heart of the Desert

A time to gather
myself to myself.

A time to gather sacred life
into silent landscape.

A time to gather heart to mind
and back again.

A time to gather in the heart
of the high desert
with twelve brilliant women,
contemporaries and ancients.

My home for the next three days
is Casa del Sol,
a hacienda,
the spiritual heart
of Ghost Ranch.

 My room is small and simple.
Some previous visitor
has left seven-day candles
in the hearth.

We begin each day walking
the labyrinth.


and evenings,

we study
the Desert Mothers.

In the 300s,
when Constantine made Christianity
the state religion,
many rebelled, saw it as sellout.
They retreated to the desert,
against the status quo.

Some, especially men,
became hermits.

But often the women
created communities
where they shared
and prayed
and taught.

was considered very wise.

She taught about living
an authentic life.
She said,

It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind 
while living in a crowd, 
and it is possible for one who is a solitary 
to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.

Mary of Egypt
was a probably a prostitute
or at least quite promiscuous.

She left that life
and entered the wilderness
where she lived
to the end of her days.

Macrina was the woman
behind the famous brothers,
St. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa.

She was compared to Socrates
for her wisdom.
Gregory said she was:

A woman who raised herself by philosophy
to the greatest height of human virtue.

Mary C. Earle,
in her book, The Desert Mothers,
 says the lesson of these women is:

Daily practice, 
focused on what matters 
in the long run, 
shapes each of us
into true human beings,
marked by the glory of God.
My practice,
afternoons at Ghost Ranch,
is solitude and silence.

Just me
and the desert.

This huge silence is
the Word of God,

living and active,
listening, alert;

not even a bird
breaks into it.


Unadulterated sunshine
holds hands
with a breeze,

and they both
hug the rocks.


A single plane
passes over
the daymoon.


I crawl on my belly
up soft windswept mounds
of red dirt,


immediate geology,
like an old elephant.


In this overflow of solitude,
I think, What if
my longings
are God's longings?

That could be my soul
turned inside
these monuments
of rock,

these fractal branches,


this perfect pentagon
of white stone.

Resting with this Earth,
I receive
her healing.

She is the greatest
Desert Mother
of all.

No agenda but to love
this self
in this body,
on this earth,
my own monastic cell.

The Desert Father, Abba Moses said,

Go to your cell
and your cell
will teach you all. 

Nothing that isn't,
nothing to escape,

when there are no walls.

The final morning
brings first snow,

a perfect symbol
of renewal,


an unexpected alteration
from beauty to beauty,


from earth to earth,
home to home.


  1. This is my first reading. I have been awaiting this like a child on Xmas Eve...anticipating your work and the WORK that would come of it. I usually do not respond to your posts until I have had many opportunities to read and dwell and embrace, but I was so excited to read and see that I just had to say...THANK YOU for sharing and I am enjoying the experience I get to have from your experience. IT IS WONDERFUL.

  2. Thank you. This was a hard post - so much to work into it, and so many photos to sift through. And I still feel like I haven't done the experience justice.

  3. Believe me, if that's not doing an experience justice, I don't know what is.

    (You emboldened me to try actually commenting meaningfully on your work, thanks very much. So be prepared for a gout of inane opinions.)

    This is powerful, visceral, elemental writing. Evocative as actually seeing it oneself. Guttural enough as actually feeling it. Well done. And thanks for sharing.

  4. Wow, wow, wow. Damn, you're good at comments sometimes! Oh, I mean, Dang.

  5. I have just spent some time with this post, Polli. It is beautiful, powerful and true. I very much like your writing that Mother Earth is the greatest Desert Mother of all. In fact, your whole post is indeed remarkable. It is also both so incredible and credible that you are planning your own cell out there in the desert :-))

    So many blessings on you, o wise Younger Sister!

  6. Thank you so much, Claire, for coming to this, and "getting" it, and drawing my attention back to it. It really is a full circle experience for me to read this again, and richer still with you by my side.



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