While at St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, Californa for a weekend with my seminary class on Henri Nouwen, I was able to spend time in silence and solitude outdoors. Today it was breezy and for me that was an irritant. There was only one interior space available which we had been in the whole time so that wasn’t where I wanted to go either. I started the experience perplexed. I decided to drive to the local county park called the Devil’s Punch Bowl to see if that would be my “happy spot”. En route just a quarter mile from the Abbey I saw another irritation, a sign that indicated that I was on the San Andreas Fault. I realized that the Abbey itself is likely sitting right on top of it. In 1994, the Northridge earthquake rocked my world. The roof of our home lifted off so that you could see daylight from the front to the rear of the home. We sustained about $30,000 worth of damage to the interior of our home, including the loss of family heirlooms. I was unable to sleep for days and began to experience anxiety attacks. Once again the inability to find solitude and irritation returned.
The route to the park was not clearly marked and at the end of the road I was not sure which way to turn, but decided to go left. As soon as a rounded the first turn in the road I knew I had chosen correctly as I could see the huge white rocks jutting out of the ground at a 45 degree angle from the rolling terrain. These rocks once were underground and as a result to the violence of the fault activity have been forced out of their normal place and now form a natural wonder for people to photograph and to climb on. Upon arrival I noticed the juxtaposition of the landscape, vibrant Joshua trees next to dead mesquite bushes and vibrant Pinyon pines next to dead white branched leafless creosote bushes. Death and life were noticeably in tension with each other. I began to hike a short trail and could not relax and enjoy it as there was the looming possibility of encountering a rattlesnake. I asked God for courage to continue and completed the short trail only encountering one of my favorite birds, a blue jay. You may ask where is your solitude? Where is your silence? But it is there in my mind, in my observation and in my reflection and dialogue with God on my journey to the Devil’s Punch Bowl.
I returned to the Abbey and found a relatively breezeless spot near the pond to sit. I reflect upon the state of my soul. I have been experiencing a great deal of sorrow and challenges. I reflected on the monks bowing from the waist as they speak the names of our God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I see the Cottonwood Trees around me bending and bowing in the wind, I see their twigs broken on the ground around me. I reflect on my brokenness and how I am asking God to put it into his service for the comfort of others. I ask for his strength to stand and allow others to observe and explore God’s faithfulness in the midst of my suffering. I wrote the poem in honor of the experience.
Lives in Tension
The cactus and the evergreen tree
The San Andreas running through my life
The irritating wind
The restful water
Twigs lie broken on the ground
How can I let the winds blow?
How can I be broken like a twig?
How can the violence of sorrow shake my life?
Under my feet the ground is shaky.
I cannot stand.
I must bow.
I must let my life be lifted up
With all its shattered angles for all to look upon
In my brokenness you cause me to stand.