St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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The Importance of Special Places

Bruce lives in rolling country twenty-three hundred miles from where I now live. You get off the interstate, go about seven miles on a four-lane state highway, turn onto a two-lane blacktop for another six miles, dog leg onto a dirt road that rolls on for about a miles, then dips down past a dairy farm, turns a sharp left along a creek, and there he lives in a modernized cabin set back against a hill, walled in by hemlock, oak, and maple. Bruce and Robin’s place is special for me and was for years. Their place was once the parenthetical marks that enclosed a vacation period; they marked the first and last stops en route to and from Chicago to Philadelphia, back in the day when that was a regular tour for me.

The place is also special because it marks a different way of life from that which I once lived in the big cities of Philadelphia and Chicago. That place, also known as “rancho deluxe,” represents a pace and an environment and a feeling it’s important to recall in times of stress and overdone populations. To put it simply, it’s a spiritual oasis.

The way the herons and the geese and the ducks populate the shores of the creek, the erratic flight of the bank swallows, the cry of the killdeer, and the occasional green kingfisher flying upstream and diving: these create the spirit of the place.

Relationships are important. Bruce and I go back over forty years. The quality of our conversation is always nourishing, challenging, and deep. A spiritual center binds us together around the stove. Special places enhance everybody’s conversations; we are not unique.

I used to invent special places for my children and to inhabit. They weren’t much, a corner of a room here, a nook there, with a children’s library and a backrest for reading. We went there to feel safe, to be comforted, to be together. There is a security to be found against the winds of fortune that surround us.

We are promised a special place in the heart of God, but we need the experience of special places where that heart may be known. A creekside cabin. A tiny corner for children. A cathedral in France or Russia. An ancient adobe church on a hill. All these are doorways into that larger heart that embraces and encompasses us all.

The special place may also be within us. Some of the early Christian teachers interpreted Jesus’ words, “I Go to prepare a place for you” to mean the Spirit’s preparation of a special place in our hearts to which we could return again and again, and in which we would be met by God. This special place is comforting and secure. Prayer marks our constant return to this special place, this “little chamber of the heart,” as the 18th century teacher and hymn writer Gerhard Tersteegen called it. In our Orthodox tradition, we use the simple words, “Lord, have mercy,” as a repeated form of prayer to bring us into our own hearts and into the heart of God, who is always waiting but so often kept waiting by our busy agendas.

So as you are moved to recall the special places that you hold dear, know that they are reminders of a more full and eternal special place that has been prepared for you and in which you find refuge and safety. There you will be challenged at the very core of your being, as well, but which an underlying sense of affirmation that will not let you down.

March 2011