Sunday, May 7, 2017

Recognizing the Shepherd's Voice

Easter 4th Sunday - 2017 Yr A
Ss. Peter & Paul - Danville, KY

A few years ago I spent the summer working as a chaplain at St. Joseph hospital in Lexington.  I was often the only on-call chaplain for the whole system, which included the Women & Children’s Center at St. Joseph East out on Richmond Road.  Let me tell you:  Newborns are adorable, and new moms and dads are precious to behold.  It is difficult to be welcomed into the moment of new life without feeling uplifted.

I often watched in amazement at how these newborns recognized their fathers.  It was really no surprise to me that there was a natural attachment and response to the mother – after all, the infants had spent every moment since their conception with mom.  But I was amazed at their ability to recognize their fathers.  What was most interesting to me was what they most often seemed to recognize.  Dad’s touch was more scary than anything else – little baby David had never met dad’s touch before, it would take him time to learn that dad’s touch was safe, protective, tender, and warm.  But Dad’s voice was very often instantly recognized and tremendously calming.  Even from across the room.
  
I’ll never forget meeting a very grumpy little infant.  Newborns are able to produce a volume and pitch of sound completely disproportionate to their size.  This little guy could have provided the early warning system for all of Boyle County.  I’d been there for three or four minutes, listening to him scream and wail while the doctors were taking care of his momma, when the most amazing thing happened:  dad walked into the room and – from clear across the room – quietly said, ‘What’s the matter little guy?’  It was magic – it was amazing – the silence and calm that descended over the room was as comforting and peaceful as warm blankets on a cold night.  He hadn’t come within 15 feet of his little one – but the sound of his voice calmed and soothed him.  This newborn – just hours old – instantly recognized his dad’s voice – and it calmed him…made everything all right.

I marveled to these new parents about what had just taken place.  ‘Isn’t it amazing that your son recognized his father’s voice,’ I asked.  The new mother smiled with such love up to her husband as she gently took his hand and said, ‘Not really all that amazing, actually.  He’s been talking to him for months now – it just makes sense that he knows his voice.

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That’s the message of Easter – that’s what Jesus says in today’s Gospel.  Even before we were knit together in our mother’s womb, Jesus was talking to us, calling our name, reaching out to us.  And, though perhaps not at first – and certainly not every time and in every way – but eventually, we begin to recognize His voice.  Why?  Because He knows us.  Don’t you see – the message of Easter is that the One through whom all things were created, like a shepherd, continually calls to us.  Even when we run from Him, even when we stray from Him, He calls.  He calls us because He knows us – and eventually hearing His voice becomes recognizing His voice – and with time, and grace, and relationship and the sacraments, recognizing His voice becomes following His voice.

“…the sheep hear His voice, as the Shepherd calls His own sheep by name and leads them out…He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him, because they recognize His voice…”

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Brothers and sisters, we are an Easter people.  We are far from perfect – we are not always the best sheep – we don’t always follow, we aren’t always listening.  But our story is an Easter story; we have an Easter destiny.  Even when we are imperfect, frail, afraid, stubborn, or downright obstinate, the Good Shepherd calls our name, and we hear His voice.  He calls us today – calls us to gather at this altar – calls us to Himself.

Can you hear Him?  Do you recognize His voice? 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

They Recognized Him in the Breaking of the Bread...

Easter 3rd Sunday 2017 (Yr A)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville, KY

They were distracted from the most important things, and that had them headed in exactly the wrong direction…

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Though you and I are now two weeks from the resurrection, today’s Gospel takes place later that same day.  Cleopas and his friend were followers of Jesus – they’d been in Jerusalem when He’d been arrested, tried, crucified, died, and was buried.  They’d heard the crazy news that the body of Jesus was missing – and they’d even heard the crazy story that some believed He had risen from the dead.  And later that same day they were…well, they were headed the wrong direction…  They were headed to Perryville when they were supposed to be staying in Danville. Biblical scholars suggest they were distracted, confused, and afraid – and headed in the wrong direction…

//

But – Father – how can you say they were distracted and had their minds on the wrong thing?  They were talking about Jesus.  Doesn’t that mean their minds were on the right stuff?  

Well – I don’t know – you tell me.  While they were discussing what seems to be all the right things, Jesus Himself showed up and started walking with them – and they didn’t recognize Him. They were even talking with Him, talking about all that happened to Him – and they didn’t recognize Him when He showed up!  That suggests they were a bit distracted – a bit confused – and their eyes and hearts were turned to other things, regardless of the words that were coming out of their mouths.

We’re on the road to Emmaus sometimes too, aren’t we?  The words coming out of our mouths seem to be about all the right things, but sometimes we’re not really seeing or recognizing Jesus when He comes up alongside of us.

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Now – the good news is – Jesus still comes!  He still comes to us, journeys with us, listens to us, loves us.  And there’s more good news – there’s something that always reveals Jesus to us, sets our hearts and minds in the right direction, eliminates our distraction, and gets us focused on Jesus.  They recognized Him in the breaking of the bread...!

That’s why the Eucharist is so important – that’s why coming to Mass is so important, especially when we’re feeling distracted or lost, or are trying to make sure Jesus is as the center of something important going on in our lives.  Because if we turn our eyes and hearts and minds to the breaking of the bread, we’ll recognize Jesus, we’ll see and experience Him with us.  The Eucharist is our compass, our north star, our guiding light.  Just like Cleopas and his friend, we’ll recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, adjust our destination, and begin to head in the right direction – toward the miracle He has in store for us.

//

We’re on the road as a parish family right now, aren’t we?  We’re on the road of discernment, trying to figure out what the next right step is for our family of faith regarding our building project.  We know we need an elevator.  We’ve talked for a long time about a bell tower.  We’ve also talked about important maintenance to our historic building to preserve and protect it, and dreamed about updates to our worship space.  Each of us has a different perspective on the priorities; a different story to tell about why we invested or didn’t invest in the capital campaign.  But we learned just before Easter that we can’t do it all – at least not all right now.

And so here we are on the road.  I don’t know about you – but there are times on this road that I feel like the disciples on the day of the resurrection.  Sometimes confused.  Sometimes scared. Wondering which direction to go.  Doing the best I can to find Jesus in this journey – to hear and see Him – to understand His guidance and direction.  Because nothing matters if we’re not following His lead.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

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When we’re heading down this road of discernment for our parish building project – any time we’re on the road – together or individually – in difficulty and struggle, in times of loneliness, sickness, or hardship – even in times of plenty and consolation – any time we’re on the road, the only sure way to recognize Jesus and let Him point us in the right direction is to focus first and foremost on recognizing Him in the breaking of the bread.  To focus on gathering together – even among our disagreements and differences of opinion – to be walking together and focused on the Eucharist, to see and encounter Jesus in the Eucharist – so that we can recognize him in the breaking of the bread and let Him point us in the right direction.

There is nothing – nothing – more important that we do as a community of faith than turn toward Him at this altar, set everything else aside, recognize, see, hear, and respond to Jesus in the breaking of the bread, and let that communicate to us where and how we go forward.

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Every registered member of the parish has a voice in our discernment regarding the construction project – we’ve heard already from about 150 of our families, and we’ve extended our time for response to noon on Monday.  Place your response forms in the collection basket or bring them to the parish office.  If you didn’t receive a form, contact Cindy in the office and she’ll get one to you.  The Parish Council has met, the Finance Council and Construction Committee will meet this week – and we’ll do the best we can to hear the voice of the whole parish and discern how to proceed.  But that only matters – it can only happen – if we keep what is most important actually most important to us:  that is, Jesus Christ – recognizing Him and responding to Him – and we do that by focusing together on Him in the breaking of the bread at the Eucharist.

//

They were distracted from the most important things, focused on worldly things, and that had them headed in exactly the wrong direction…  We find ourselves on that same road together and individually in all kinds of situations and circumstances.  Sometimes we’re headed in the right direction – sometimes we’re not.  Sometimes we’re distracted – sometimes we’re not.  The story of Cleopas and his friend give us a sure compass as we walk – we’ll recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  

Come Lord Jesus – show us your presence – let us hear your voice – point us in the direction we should go – and walk with us – so that all we do might bring glory and honor to you, and serve the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  Amen.  Amen.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Man, Does It Feel Good To Come Out of the Desert!

Palm Sunday (Yr A) 2017
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville
Man does it ever feel good to be coming out of the desert!

Six weeks ago, we got out of the boat and into the desert – remember?  We went into the hot, dry, barren desert with Jesus – leaving behind all the things that try to leave us dead in the desert.  And as soon as we got into the desert, Jesus took us up a high mountain. Why?  So that we could be transformed – seeing Jesus more clearly for who He is transformed us so we could complete the rest of the journey through the desert of Lent to new life at Easter!  

And then we went on an adventure. Jesus found us thirsty at the well, and gave us the water of life.  Jesus found us blind from birth, and restored our spiritual sight. He found us dead – dead in our sin – dead and locked away – He found us dead, and restored us to life.  And all of that – all of that to bring us here…to the precipice of Holy Week – to the celebration of the great days.  In Lent, we got out of the boat and into the desert, where we were transformed, we found living water and began to see, and we are being brought back to life.  

Man – does it ever feel good to be coming out of the desert…

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Coming out of the desert we hang our banners high, the music greets us once again, we march around town and around the Church celebrating the arrival of the King – our King!!  All Glory Laud and honor to You Redeemer King!! We’re excited – we’ve made it out of the desert – we’ve found our king – He is triumphant – we are SAVED!!!!  

And…that lasts about 15 minutes.  As quickly as the children of Israel turned on God and Moses after being delivered from Pharaoh – more quickly, actually – we turn on Jesus.  In the space of 15 minutes we go from all glory laud and honor to Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!  

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Like all the worst stories in human history, our celebration of friendship with Jesus becomes a brutal betrayal.  The first time I ever really paid attention to the parts I read in the pews on Palm Sunday, I was overwhelmed by confusion. He’s my friend – He’s my king – I love Him – I’ll follow Him anywhere!  Kill Him!  Destroy Him! Murder Him!  CRUCIFY HIM!

The enormity of it used to bring me to tears – but nothing quite like the sorrow that settled into my soul the first time I realized that, truly, in my life, I actually do and say things that line up with our speaking parts on Palm Sunday.  We come easy to the palms and procession of this glorious day, dismissing or disconnecting from the part we play in the Passion.  But the truth is, friends, if we take an honest look at our days, at what we do and say, if we’re honest with ourselves we can recognize that the Church gives us these lines in the Palm Sunday drama because we’ve earned them.  Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.  All Glory, Laud, and Honor and Crucify Him!

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We come to Mass on Sunday; we trust Jesus in prayer; we share what we have with the needy; we love even when it hurts; we carry our burdens courageously; we worthily receive His Body and Blood from this altar, and focus ourselves on offering the true worship of joyful, contrite, open and loving hearts.  Hosanna to the King of Kings!!!

But what about those times we miss Mass out of simple unwillingness to be inconvenienced?  We cling to more than we need and leave others in desperate want.  We love as long as it feels good or reject the teachings of the Church the moment it asks something of us that we don’t like.  We hide our sin from Confession, spiting in the face of Love Himself when we receive His sacred Body and Blood unworthily.  We sit at Mass the way we sit in a movie theater, passively going through the motions, overlooking the divine realities taking place.  Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!

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Is it any wonder that at the end of it all – in His divine mind able to see the entirety of human experience – aware of the ways you and I would ignore, resist, and work against the very love His pain and agony offers us – is it any wonder that in His last breaths He felt abandoned and alone?  “…why have you forsaken me?”

//

Friends – we are all joined together in the hypocrisy of Palm Sunday.  We are all guilty.  Thank God – THANK GOD – this is a story, this is a day, this is a celebration of who Jesus is and not who we are!  Because, the story doesn’t end with our hypocrisy – the story doesn’t end with our fickle, two-faced transformation.  The story, the celebration, the Good News is that the pain and agony of the Cross, the humiliation and betrayal or our “Crucify Him” – the story we tell today – this story, this celebration, this Good News is that Love wins!

Day after day, if we let ourselves be pierced by the Mercy that flows from the Passion and Death of the Lord, our sin is overcome and the crucifixion pierces us with Love and earns for us a place in that kingdom where we become wholly, completely and forever among the parade of faithful witnesses ringing out Hosanna to the King!  

The story isn’t our betrayal.  The story is this:  Jesus wins!! Jesus wins in our lives!  Love wins in our lives! Even our own hypocrisy can’t destroy the power of this King’s love and mercy!  Hosanna to the King!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

We've Been Blind All Along...But It's OK

Lent 4 Sun Yr A 2017
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Well – here we are in the desert – where it’s hot and dry.  We’ve been up on a high mountain already.  We are seeing Jesus more clearly for who He is – and coming back down the mountain, we’re finding it has transformed us (if we are letting ourselves be transformed, that is).  Did I mention it was hot in the desert?  And we didn’t bring any food or water – but we did that on purpose.  Just like Jesus, we want to rely on God for our sustenance.  And it’s working - because last week we came upon a well in the desert, and met someone there who seemed to be a stranger.  But He said He’d been waiting for us all along – waiting for us to ask Him for a drink of living water that quenches all of our thirsts forever.  He can’t be a stranger…He knows everything about us – everything – even the things we try to keep hidden from others and ourselves – He knows everything about us, and still loves us, gives us this water if we ask.  We’re transformed again as we trust Him more and let ourselves be known by Him who already knows us perfectly.

Yes – it’s hot and dry in the desert – it’s hard in the desert – we do without in the desert.  But – this desert seems to be doing something for us – it seems to be doing something to us.  Like ancient Israel following the pillar of cloud and fire, we’re discovering that we’re not really wandering in the desert.  Sure, it sometimes seems like we’re wandering, struggling with the same old stuff – not seeming to make any headway, not really getting anywhere in this life of faith and discipleship and relationship with Jesus.  But we can see, if we look, that we’re really headed toward something.  That’s why this Laetare Sunday we change our purple to rose; because we’ve been transformed, we’ve been refreshed with living water – and we’ re beginning to see that there’s hope…

But then – when things seem to be looking up – that’s when we discover that we’re blind.  Blind as the proverbial bat.  It would be horrible to go blind in the middle of the desert.  But this is worse!  We didn’t go blind – no, we realize we’ve been blind all along!  No wonder it’s so hard here in the desert; we’re blind and we didn’t even know it!

Our spiritual blindness is so much a part of our vision that we hardly ever acknowledge it, but it’s there.  We think we see sloth, vice, and danger in the poor, downtrodden, imprisoned and outcast, but in the desert we realize we’re blind to the dignity of the marginalized that is as fundamental to their existence as it is to ours.  We think we see in the Sacrament of Reconciliation an antiquated holdover from a misguided age, but in the desert we realize we’re blind to the workshop of humility and tangible encounter with grace that frees us from sin that confession truly is.  We mistake the beauty of creation for nothing more than a picture-perfect portrait meant for our casual and occasional pleasure, but in the desert we realize we’re blind to the giant arrow pointing to the masterful Creator worthy of our worship who carefully crafted for us a paradise in which we can walk and talk with Him so that we can come to know Him intimately on our journey toward heaven.  We think we see in the return of the ancient traditions of the Church an empty ritual that binds us to the past and prevents us from doing things the way we want, but in the desert we’re realizing we’re blind to the beauty and freedom these thousands of years of tradition represent and make real in our lives.  We think we see in the rules and disciplines and clear moral teachings of the Church nothing but chains that bind our preferences and rob our freedom, but in the desert we’re realizing we’re blind to the spiritual freedom and authentic discipleship these disciplines lead us into.  

In the desert of our Lent, we’re realizing that we are BLIND!

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Were blind – but it’s OK.  It’s OK because…He is here.  The One we followed into the desert and up the high mountain.  The One who was and is and always will be – the source of all that is good – the exalted King of All Creation who stoops low enough to take us by the hand and lead us through the desert to the promised land.  The One who was waiting for us at the well of living water and gives it to us freely if we ask.  Jesus is here!  And what does He do when we discover how blind we are?  Here – in the silence and the hunger and thirst of the desert – here in the desert Jesus gives us living water that quenches our deepest thirsts, and here in the desert Jesus restores our sight!

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Search your hearts – look for your blindness.  Are you blind to sin?  Blind to love?  Blind to trust?  Are you blind to your own dignity and worth?  Blind to how precious you are in the eyes of God?  Search your hearts – are you blind to the mercy of God that forgives – the mercy of God that calls you on a mission in this world no matter what your faults and failings are – are you blind to the mercy of God that pours out upon you the love of the Savior no matter what, if you’ll only ask for it.  Search your hearts – look for your blindness – and when you begin to see your blindness, trust Jesus – trust Him to cure your blindness and restore your sight.  It’s why He brought you to the desert…

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Along with those preparing to enter the Church this Easter, the Lord restores our sight, sending us on our way – better able to see the goodness of the Lord, better able to leave behind the darkness of this world in exchange for the works and ways of light.  “Brothers and sisters, you were once in darkness – but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of the light!  Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light!”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

In the Desert on a High Mountain...

Lent 2 Sun Yr A - 2017
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

Last week, we entered the desert of Lent – we left behind what we know, our patterns, our normal, our familiar, to get into the desert.  We left behind our triumphant and jubilant hymns to enter into a greater silence, so we can hear the Lord speak to us more clearly.  We left behind the water we draw from old familiar wells of earthly success and praise; we left behind water drawn from the wells that never satisfy for longer than a few moments – you know – the water of feeding our appetites indiscriminately with screens and food and cheap love – we left that water behind to seek and find the water of life that is the only drink that can satisfy our longing.  We entered the desert by committing to a program of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to let go of the ‘extra’ in our lives – the ‘extra’ that weighs us down in the stark dryness of the desert and will, if we don’t drop it, prevent us from moving through the desert to the garden of paradise and new life on the other side.

We may still be struggling – trying – having difficulty getting into the desert, but we recommit today to the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving because they help us get into the desert – because our hope of making it through the desert to Paradise and new life lies in following Jesus into the desert…  In Lent, we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life.  Can you say that with me?  In Lent, we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life.  Very good – remember that – chant it – say it over and over again – let it guide us through Lent to Easter.  In Lent, we have to get into the desert, where we are transformed, find living water and begin to see, and are brought back to life.  Very good. 

So…here we are, in the desert, in the dry stillness and stark simplicity of the desert…here we are, in the desert, with Jesus…

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A few steps – just as we really begin to get into the desert – a few steps into the desert, still tentative and halting, still trying to adjust, let go, shed sin and death – a few steps in the desert, listening in the stillness and looking for Jesus, walking with Him in the desert…and what’s the first thing we see?  Oh great – a mountain.  Here, just inside the desert, there’s a mountain.  

Well isn’t thaaaatttt speciallll...

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Just inside the desert, there’s a mountain.  And not just any mountain – a HIGH mountain.  I can’t walk up a hill, no less a mountain – a high mountain.  But, apparently, Jesus thinks we should go with Him.  The good news I guess – if there can be any good news that goes along with having to climb up a high mountain – the good news is that Jesus leads us up the mountain.  Like Gandalf guiding the Fellowship, Jesus leads us up this mountain.  There must be something important up there for Jesus to lead us up that mountain so soon after following Him into the desert.

And – of course – there is something important up on this high mountain.  Something that has to happen before we can find living water and begin to see – something that must happen before we can be brought back to life.  Something that must happen before we can journey through Lent to Easter...

We must be transformed!

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In my Bible – in every Bible I’ve ever seen – the little heading over this passage of scripture tells me it’s the Transfiguration.  As if what this story is about what happens to Jesus on the mountain.  But – does anything really happen to Jesus?  He is the same person coming down the mountain as He was leading us up the mountain, right?  

Peter and James and John saw His face shine like the sun for the first time, but Jesus is the Bright and Morning Star!  It wasn’t like Jesus began to shine at that moment – He had been and will be forever the bright shining light chasing away the darkness of our night in the valley of sin and death.  

Peter and James and John saw His clothing appear as white as light itself, but Jesus is the pure Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  It wasn’t like Jesus began to be radiantly pure and unstained by sin at that moment – He had been and will forever be the perfect, innocent, unblemished lamb that is the only acceptable sacrifice to rescue, redeem, and sanctify you and I and all humanity from the stain of sin and death.

Peter and James and John saw Moses and Elijah – the law and the prophets – conversing with Jesus; but Jesus is the very Word and Wisdom of God.  It wasn’t like Jesus began to be the source and completion of the law and prophecy at that moment – He had been and will forever be the fulfillment of all that the law and prophecies have pointed and will point toward, rescuing you and I and all humanity from the perils and pitfalls of sin leading us into death.

This story doesn’t really seem to be about what happened to Jesus at all – He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  No, this story seems to be about something that we who follow Him into the desert and up on the High Mountain – Jesus isn’t changed, He is revealed.  And – by encountering Him more completely as He truly is we – you and I – WE are changed and transformed!

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Peter and James and John – and any of us who bravely get into the desert and follow Jesus up the high mountain – we’re transformed when we encounter Jesus more completely for who He truly is.

Our desire to capture moments and stay so stuck in them that life won’t move on is transformed into a willingness to leave it all behind and follow Jesus into whatever great adventure He has planned for us.

Fitting Jesus into a little box where He isn’t really anything more than a sage teacher telling us to be nice to each other is transformed into a recognition that Jesus Christ is true God, the Only Son of the Father; Christ the King and Jesus the Friend – who calls and leads and has enough – is enough – to bring us to the other side.

Our fear at seeing Jesus for who He truly is is transformed into love and courage and strength – our fear is transformed into a burning desire to follow Him wherever He leads, no matter what the cost.

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We so often avoid the desert and the high mountains of life because they are uncomfortable, we have to leave the familiar behind, it’s hard in the desert… We avoid the desert and the high mountains because change is hard and sometimes it hurts.  But in the desert – on the high mountains – as we fast, and pray, and give – in the desert and on the high mountains we encounter Jesus more completely for who He truly is – and that encounter always – every single time – encounter with Jesus always transforms us.

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“Well – that’s all well and good, Father.  But you haven’t told me anything I can use.  I hear what you’re saying – but I don’t know what to do with it.  Tell me something useful.  Tell me what I need to do – tell me where I need to go and what I need to go do.”


I wish I knew…but I don’t.  I don’t know anything about where to go or what to do – what I do know about is how.  How to live life in the desert and on the mountain.  Pray this week – in the silence of the desert, pray – pray and listen for Jesus so you can encounter Him.  Fast this week – fast from screens or food or complaining or despair – fast so you’re hungry for Jesus and can encounter Him.  Give – notice others around you and take some of what you’ve got that they need and give it to them – time, attention, resources – give to others and see Jesus in them so you can encounter Him.  If you live life this way this week – you’ll encounter Jesus on the High Mountain in the desert, and – seeing Him more perfectly for who He truly is – you will be transformed…