advent, jan richardson, seasons, Walking

Wandering in the Wilderness

A few weeks before Advent began I saw an email from Jan Richardson about an online retreat she would be hosting during the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I considered it but decided to wait a little longer to make my decision. Then, a couple days later, a friend sent me a message asking for prayer — her life felt a bit out of sync and she wanted extra help enlisting the Holy Spirit for guidance. In addition to praying for her, I asked if she wanted to participate in this online retreat with me. I suggested that each week we could schedule a facetime call to talk about what we’d read, seen, heard and experienced. She agreed and our journey together began!

“In Which We Begin Again” — the theme for week one. I feel like I’m always beginning, but perhaps with a little more wisdom each time. Maybe that’s the point.

“By a Strange Road” — the theme for week two. In my journal I wrote down all the words from Sunday’s reflection that jumped out at me. They are:
Breaks in, dislocation, disruption
Signs, dreams, unusual visitations
Questions, doubts, discernment, will
Entertain, receive, respond

I realized it’s a cycle that leads back to a beginning. Because once I respond, there will be another breaking in, another dislocation, another disruption and away I go onto the next strange road.

At the end of the reflection, there were three questions and the first started with: “In this season…” There is a presumption that I know what season I’m in…

I often find that my life follows the rhythm of the natural seasons quite well — perhaps that’s because I grew up and live in the midwest where there are four distinct seasons (although that seems to be changing a bit). Two years ago, however, my relationship with those seasons began to change. I didn’t come out of winter when the trees began to bud and the grass greened. I might have been close to spring when the temperatures rose past 80F and the swimming pools were packed with kids. I’m not sure I ever got to summer, but I welcomed the fall and easily slid back into winter when she arrived.

But determining what natural season I find myself in today is harder. It depends on the day, the moment. After reading the list of words above to my friend on Monday, she said, “That sounds like wilderness.” Yes! And that is why having a friend on this Advent journey is so important – to see and hear what I can’t see and hear. I wrote WILDERNESS in my journal and sat with that for awhile.

The next day I was at a church that my family attended many years ago when my mom was a pastor there. I was there for a work event, but it also felt like some strange road… memories, relationships and moments flooded my mind. I went to the restroom and found this poem staring back at me on the stall door:

hurricane poem by mary oliver


I immediately found the poem online and sent it to my friend. “For some things there are no wrong seasons. Which is what I dream of for me.”

Walking through the wilderness, I can encounter a variety of seasons. I can encounter an oasis or two. I can stay there as long as I want — a respite before I start walking again.

Walking, it’s what I do. I walk my dogs in the morning. I walk around campus when I need a break. I walked in Spain. I walked in local parks. I walk alone, I walk with friends. I just keep walking. Walking in the snow. Walking through the drizzle. Walking in the heat of the day. Walking under the light of the moon. I cry and and sing and pray and smile and grumble when I walk. I wander through neighborhoods and on wooded paths. I walk on well-worn paths that I could follow in my sleep. I walk on a treadmill while watching TV. I walk and walk and walk.

I started walking regularly when Denali came into my life — that was 10 years ago. We still walk together.


No matter the season, I walk. I wander. I wonder. When I don’t know what to do or where to go or how to move forward, I walk. When I’m scared about what’s next, I walk. When I’m excited about something new, I walk.

I don’t know where this Wilderness will take me, but I’ll keep walking through it until I discover what I’m meant to find. And, when I find it, I’ll walk some more because there is always a new beginning waiting for me on this strange, strange road.


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