Into The Desert

We aren’t moving, we still live in the lush woodlands of Maine, but my goodness! Have you ever noticed how very isolating the world is when you’re pursing something Good?

It’s a lonely road, oftentimes, and so often full of sneaky suggestions as to how and when and why you really can get away with betraying your ideals. Ideals, after all – it whispers – are well and good for day-dreamers and teenagers, but reality demands compromise!

Does it though?


Do we always have to be selling out the Good for the ‘sorta-nice’? And why does the crowd insist on pushing mediocrity upon us instead of encouraging greatness? I’m a big fan of Soren Kierkegaard, so I’m plugging up my ears to the whispers and chasing after holiness – deeper into to the figurative desert we go!

In this spirit of interior ascetism, here are 5 little ways I’ve been trying to build a hermitage of beauty and goodness!

: Wake Early :

Waking early allows us to share in the promise of the dawn! The stillness; the soft, new air, the half-remembered early morning dreams. Rising in the pink light of a newborn day gives us more energy, I think, than sleeping late and waking to find the day half over.

Wake up early! Step outside and breathe in the newness! I’ve been trying to wake early and step outside around 6:30, it isn’t easy because I stay up so late! But the morning hours are such a delightful time! And who needs sleep, right? The desert fathers certainly didn’t! Sometimes I wonder if our culture’s preoccupation with getting 8 hours of sleep each night is healthy.


: Read Up :

We share our bookstacks and reading piles on social media all the time, but really, if you’re just reading piles of romances or thrillers, you’re not actually developing your mind at all. You’re just stuffing it with little sugary bits of distraction. Reading is a great way to grow toward the Good, but only if what you read is actually Good, not just fun and engaging. If you’re used to reading Oprah’s book of the month, that means you have to retrain you mind to delight in what is good – like a fan of McDonald’s learning to love real food.

Most important, learn to love Scripture. Not just the Gospels and the Psalms either. Learn to love Numbers and Leviticus, Maccabees and Proverbs. Immerse yourself in the many voices of God! I’m a lazy reader these days. I get busy and distracted and just want to reread all my comfortable, old favorites. But this spring (is it summer yet?) I’ve been challenging myself to explore new opinions and new presentations – my library stack is an ever-changing bundle of exciting, new authors (new to me anyway!)

: Fast :

Seriously. Nothing distracts from the Good like the tasty. Which isn’t to say you should eschew all cakes and cookies! St. Francis didn’t! But fasting regularly and intentionally teaches your body to submit to your will. It prepares you to go without some unnecessary thing (like Starbucks’ coffee or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream) when that thing becomes morally, socially, spiritually, or financially problematic.

Fasting should be a physical, tangible thing too. ‘Fasting from harsh words’ is all well and good, but it’s not really fasting. Fasting is the giving up of some good thing, not the giving up of all my wretched sins. I don’t ‘fast’ from those, I reject them utterly (or, at least, I should!)

So find a way to fast from food or drink. Give up wine, or give up adding paprika to your potatoes, or give up snacky foods from companies who’s morals offend you. It’s simple, and it builds up your soul in so many ways! I’m getting back into the habit of having fasting days throughout the week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and denying myself in small ways on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I love the quiet that fasting brings to my soul and the structure it brings to me week.


: Welcome Jesus :

‘Hospitality’ is an industry now. You can even get a degree in it. But Hospitality is also a way of life: an intentional focus on the many faces of Christ in the people all around us! True hospitality is an act of mercy: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the sick and lonely, house the homeless..

Tradition reminds us of all the people who welcomed strangers into their homes and found that they were actually entertaining Christ Himself or His angels (or fairies, or wealthy, capricious goblin-kings) – lets open our doors and delight in the abundance that hospitality can offer!

Hospitality is always my intention. Sometimes it’s difficult, but as we build our own little, fairy-version of a ‘Benedict Option’ home in the wilderness, we are finding so many ways to welcome others into the joy of our woodland.

: Labor :

Daily tasks can seem so menial. So empty and unappreciated sometimes. But labor – the act of building up something sustaining – whether it’s washing dishes or waiting tables or growing vegetables or mucking out goats – is an act of hope. A beautiful way to unite ourselves to our fellow men, to Christ, and to Adam who labored in the garden before the fall.

We work at all our small tasks and build something large and beautiful with them: so much labor is going on here! Seth is building a deck against the yurt, he’s finishing off his studio building behind the yurt, and digging post-holes for an addition that will connect yurt to studio. We’ve moved the pear trees to an out-of-goat-reach yard behind the studio and are adding 2 northern fig trees and two northern peach trees to their ranks! And while he’s busy with labors at home, I’m stepping off to work nearby in the evenings: a little, local pizza shop has me filling orders and cleaning up four nights a week.

Ideally, I’d be earning money from home, but labor often demands sacrifice, and the delight of being able to fund our building projects with the work of my hands is a joy. Labor doesn’t always look as you want it to, but if you squint a bit, you can always see Christ at the heart of it.


So that’s what I’m doing to build my domestic monastery with a bit more intention this summer. What about you? What goods are you cultivating on the path toward holiness?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post, I agree totally with fasting, I do it two days a week and it has not only disciplined me but my waistline has benefited too. Enjoy your domestic monastry!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marie says:

    I love all of this! I’ve been trying to appreciate labor more…it is so easy to become lazy or distracted in our easy, noisy world, so I’m trying to be intentional about work. Reading “Dakota” by Kathleen Norris, as you suggested, helped me a lot on this point!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael says:

    I am drawn to the notion of “desert”. You outline the elements, or constructs of the ascetic well. Found this quote regarding “desert” from a talk Merton gave in 1968 at a Trappist Monastery in the redwoods before departing on his Asian journey.

    “The desert becomes a paradise when it is accepted as desert. The desert can never be anything but a desert if we are trying to escape it. -But once we fully accept it in union with the passion of Christ, it becomes paradise. This is a great theological point: any attempt to renew the contemplative life is going to have to include this element of sacrifice, uncompromising sacrifice. This breakthrough into what you already have is only accomplished through the complete acceptance of the cross at some point.”

    Liked by 2 people

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