We are beloved companions on a mystic journey, sharing our solitude and holding the world in the divine prayer of love.

"Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory. Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance. And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation."
- from St. Clare's third letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Desert Will Flower

Along the highway south towards Florence, AZ, the desert flowers are in bloom. Such a gasp of color--such a cummings-like "sweet small feet of April into the ragged meadows of my soul." More than normal winter rains turned the mountains green and filled the washes with yellow, coral, lavendar, creamy white, blossoms. The Joshua tree branches burgeon with a spring green that is almost white.

We were on our way with Mike and Darlene Weber to the  St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery. In 1996 Monks came to the Arizona desert from Mount Athos in Greece to begin construction of this magnificent and holy place. Much of the design and art work came directly from Greece. As we prepared to visit, clothes were a big consideration. It was a bit like going into a foreign country. Women wear veils or shawls and long skirts. Men need to cover their arms and legs -- so long pants and long-sleeved shirts in the desert heat. We had a moderate day, though, so heat wasn't a problem. Darlene, Mike and I caught up on the Weber news as we made the hour long trip south from Mesa past the little town of Florence where the monastery is located. At a gathering place at the entrance to the large grounds, we were checked for appropriate clothing. I passed muster even though my sleeves came midway between my wrists and elbows. Something in me is ok with this monastic dress code, but something else questions the theology of human nature that requires it. I dropped all that for the time being and simply relaxed into the holy beauty of the place itself.

The main church of St. Anthony--icons everywhere--and gold

Our Lady of Arizona

A pilgrim in Prayer
St. George's Chapel---or maybe it was St. Nicholas (sorry, bad memory for details)

The monastery has seven chapels dedicated to the elders -- those holy "mothers and fathers of monasticism" who have gone before.

desert in bloom

The walkways from chapel to chapel were beautifully landscaped with desert plants and large trees that provided shade. I loved these little pink flowers.

and these on a branch of of what seemed a desert cedar
When we first began walking the paths, many of the monks were still outside working. They soon disappeared, probably into their various residences, because no one was in any of the chapels.

Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom)

The reproductions of icons we found in the gift store can't do justice to the originals -- hundreds of them -- that cover the walls in the chapels. They are breathtaking. I was constantly lagging behind taking pictures of them, but now I discover that I missed some of my favorites simply because I don't read Greek! So I didn't know who they were. But I ought to have snapped a picture anyhow. My hearts aches for St. Mary of Egypt, one of the desert mothers whose eyes haunted the barren rocks and whose chanting echoed off the stones.

The final chapel was that of St. Seraphim, the most honored of the desert fathers. That's the holy man in white. Here was the first place I really wanted to kneel. More like a roadside shrine than a chapel, it radiated the simplicity of those early Greek Orthodox hermits of the desert. I could have stayed ... and stayed. Hurrying to catch up, I found the others on the way to the gift shop where John bought a book of the sayings of the Elders (the desert mothers and fathers), and I bought a small icon of St. Mary of Egypt because when I held the work in my hands it wouldn't allow me to put it back on the shelf. I suspect she has something important to tell me, so I will listen in the silence of my heart.

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