You Might Have Stared, Too

By John Kiemele
part of the Selah Community

I had an appointment at a downtown office, parked the car and was crossing the street when something caught my attention: A woman was leading a llama down the street. This is not a regular occurrence where I live, so of course I paused to look. Okay, I stared.  

Here was a llama, with its shimmering, well-groomed coat, shiny halter with ornamental lead, tall and stately with a rather regal, clip-clopping along.  

Strangely enough, it seemed like everything in this particular moment belonged. And there I stood, smiling at serendipity. When I entered my intended appointment, I inquired if anyone had noticed the lady leading the llama right outside their office window. They had not noticed, and with the tilting folders, an army of sticky notes, and the humming machinery, I understood.

How easy it is to miss such scenes when regular life piles in around us. How often, I too, miss these unsuspecting slivers of life tucked into simple street crossings.  And yet, seeing that llama that day, I realized that every moment holds a potential surprise. Every moment echoes from Love and begs my heart to wonder about something more. To move with attentive openness to unfolding life. To be alert to slivers of mystery that make me smile at llamas—and keep wondering,

About John Kiemele

John Kiemele is a wellbeing educator and spiritual director who currently companions individuals, teaches various seminars and lifestyle classes, leads contemplative retreats and serves as Program Director at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center.  Focusing on contemplative soul care, John gratefully walks alongside individuals, small groups, classrooms, and congregations.  Recognizing how intentional pausing and listening unlocks life, John strives to engage the whole person – body, mind, soul – in the lifelong process of living well.  John received his Ph.D. in education/spirituality from Talbot School of Theology, with post-doctoral emphases in Spiritual Direction, Mindful Self-Compassion, the Enneagram Spectrum, and Wellness Coaching.

Photo by Pierre Borthiry on Unsplash

Jumping Into Lent

Full disclosure, I don’t really get Lent. Perhaps it comes from being raised in the Church of Christ where there were no holy days other than the Lord’s Day. The communion song, “This we do each Lord’s day, as Christ has said…” reverberates in my brain as I write. We didn’t follow the church calendar, celebrating Christmas and Easter very minimally at home, my parents’ appeasement to their children but don’t tell anyone at church. Or perhaps it’s my Enneagram Seven-ness: if you can avoid pain, you should avoid pain. Reading about the Crucifixion and participating in Lenten activities never really caught on with me. Writing about it is a stretch.

At a dinner party during the season, several people declined certain indulgent foods or beverages due to Lent. It got me thinking. First, I didn’t even know it was Lent. Second, I wondered if there was something wrong with my Christian-ness, my theology, with me. Why was I always so different, so other from people I knew and respected? Why was I always standing a little outside the mainstream rules and procedures?

I started thinking about what the cross meant. Which got me thinking a lot about grace and how I respond to mistakes. Last week, on a mountaintop in the dark, I made some mistakes that could have been life threatening. It was a scary situation. We all made it down alive and well, but the errors in judgment stayed with me. I found myself wanting to confess to everyone, but fearing the consequences, the punishment, the restrictions that might ensue, I kept the confession silent.

While I prayed on the mountain and on the way down, and shouted a final exclamation of gratitude at the bottom, I had pretty much ignored God after that. I didn’t want the lecture. As my backpack got heavier and heavier that night, so did this burden of guilt and responsibility.

About to shatter under the weight, I went to my friend and told her I needed to confess. I needed accountability. She listened to my whole, ugly story. I waited for judgement. Our Fathers and Hail Marys perhaps. Sacrifice a bull. Confess your sins in front of the congregation and be shunned. Carry a cross. Something.

And where two or more are gathered, I knew God was listening in. Of course, He knew. Of course. My hands instinctively slid to my backside to await the spanking.

You readers of the Lenten series know what came next. You know my friend and have experienced her grace. You know Jesus and have experienced His grace. The big arms-stretched-wide embrace of Love. Come home.

As I write, I cannot think of one time when I confessed to God and received anything but open arms. Not one time. I can tell you hundreds of times I delayed going to God because I expected punishment. And thousands of times I have judged others and invoked or wished harsh consequences on them. Yet my Lord, never once, has done the same to me. Lessons to learn, sure. Growth to be had, yes. Natural consequences, sometimes, but less than you’d predict. Always, open arms. Come home.

I’m thinking I might jump into this whole Lent thing and try giving up this delicacy of judgement. Focus on the healthy diet of love and forgiveness. Live in the gift. Maybe try it out after Lent too. After Easter, until Christmas, and again. Still.

Last night I went to a performance by Rona Yellowrobe, a Native American Flute player, singer, and storyteller, and her guitar playing partner, Bruce Witham. You can imagine how the two instruments go together nicely. Native American flute players do not use music or study notes. The music comes from the heart. Players may learn songs and repeat them, but the music is not written down, and can change as the spirit moves. It was beautiful. Bruce also plays the cello. Cello music is defined, written down, procedural. It comes from a composer—until Rona and Bruce get together, then the experience is magical.

To add to the glory of the evening, an accomplished harmonica player, Eric Brown, joined the duo. Bruce switched to blues guitar, and flute, harmonica, and guitar jammed like there was no tomorrow. There was only now. Musical mindfulness. Hallelujah and Amen. Turns out, Eric had never met either Rona or Bruce before stepping to the stage. Three distinct, disconnected instruments and musicians transfixing their audience with joy, a little outside mainstream rules and procedures.

And then the gift. The audience was invited to join in with singing the chorus of the song, “Get Together.” Separate instruments, voices, lives, beliefs, all praising, pleading together. The spontaneous and the designed. The weight and the grace. The Cross and the Resurrection.

Come on, people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another right now.

Right now.

Right now.

—by Sandy Shipman
Selah Community

The Way of the Wilderness

By Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center

For this Lenten season, I wonder about and wander into the wilderness. If Jesus willingly went into the desert, aka wilderness, there is value in exploring the way in which Jesus encountered his surroundings, himself, evil, and the presence of God. In these forty days of Lent, I ask God to awaken us to what might be revealed as we consider our world, our community, and ourselves. To approach Easter with a hope-filled heart, no matter what we encounter this season, God meets us as we face the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This encounter with God moves in, through, and beyond the wilderness into places that extend the hope of God’s abiding presence.

What does wilderness have to do with contemplation? If Selah, as a welcoming contemplative community, is about pausing, encountering, and growing, then what does that look like in the wilderness? The wilderness provides certain elemental factors that offer space and time to reflect upon the inner workings of the heart. In this uncluttered and quieter place, we journey along, asking for pauses, encounters, and growth to open us to listen more deeply, both in the wilderness and beyond.

For the Mondays through Lent, I will explore the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness as they relate to us. Through the lens of Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus, these temptations speak to the questions, triggers, and pulls in our own lives. Nouwen first explores the desire to be relevant, to be in touch with all that’s going on in the world, and to be in the center of it all, with the innocent-sounding yet provocative statement to “turn these stones into bread.” Then he explores Jesus’ response to Satan’s “throw yourself down” where Jesus confronts the desire to be spectacular, to stand out among everyone else. Finally, the third temptation of worship – the act of acknowledging who is at the center of our lives – Jesus reveals our desire to be powerful. Over the course of the season, each Monday, I will post another pondering about these temptations and the invitation that God offers to us in the life of Jesus.

– Mary

Below poem is by Steve Garnaas-Holmes – you can use this for this day or at another time.

Prepare the way of the Holy One,
make straight paths for God.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth.

—Luke 3.4-5

“The driveway into my heart is an obstacle course.
My trust of God goes up and down like a mountain range.
The words I say twist and turn around
what ought to be clear and true.
My thoughts are rough, rumpled and pitted and marred.
Roots of the trees of all my desires
have heaved up the sidewalk.

The wilderness where you, O Mystery, prepare a way
is my own troubled mind.
Simplify my trust. Undistort my eyes.
Still me.
Smooth my heart, Love, till you can roller skate there
with your eyes closed.”

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

Blessings for the Wilderness

Matthew 4: 1 – 11

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


  1. Matthew 4:1 The Greek for tempted can also mean tested.
  2. Matthew 4:4 Deut. 8:3
  3. Matthew 4:6 Psalm 91:11,12
  4. Matthew 4:7 Deut. 6:16
  5. Matthew 4:10 Deut. 6:13

By Jan Richardson
Painted Prayer Book

The first time they met, they were in the waters of their mothers’ wombs. On that day, John had leaped with joy at the presence of his cousin Jesus. Now the kinsmen stand together by other waters. On this day that they meet at the Jordan, they see each other with different eyes. There is a deeper knowing in their gaze, and in their recognition of each other a joy perhaps no less keen than at the first but with a wiser edge. Here at the river, John and Jesus have lived out nearly their entire lives. Yet there is still much to do; everything to do.

And so, grudgingly at first, but then with understanding, John the Baptist plunges Jesus beneath the surface. This, at least, he can do for his cousin, can help prepare him for the way that lies ahead of him. John speaks the words of blessing and initiation, raises Jesus dripping from the depths, hears the voice that proclaims from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

And then the kinsmen go their separate ways. Where we might expect the freshly baptized Jesus to begin his public ministry, there is instead a curious sort of inversion that takes place: Jesus goes into the wilderness, the landscape that had long been home to his locust-and-honey-eating cousin. There is something he needs there, a way that yet must be prepared within him.

Here at the outset of Lent, what can you see of the landscape that lies ahead of you? Might there be another place you need to go, physically or in your soul, before you are ready to enter the landscape that calls you? Is there a space—a season, a terrain, a ritual—of preparation that you need; a place where you can find clarity, and perhaps a ministering angel or two? What might this look like?

Wilderness Blessing

Let us say
this blessing began
whole and complete
upon the page.

And then let us say
that one word loosed itself
and another followed it
in turn.

Let us say
this blessing started
to shed all
it did not need,

that line by line
it returned
to the ground
from which it came.

Let us say
this blessing is not
leaving you,
is not abandoning you
to the wild
that lies ahead,

but that it is loathe
to load you down
on this road where
you will need
to travel light.

Let us say
perhaps this blessing
became the path
beneath your feet,
the desert
that stretched before you,
the clear sight
that finally came.

Let us say
that when this blessing
at last came to its end,
all it left behind
was bread,
a fleeting flash
of wing.

—Jan Richardson

Wilderness Blessing,”  Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson
© Jan Richardson. Used with permission.
Image: “Wildnerness and Wings” © Jan Richardson

Lent (n.)

Lent (noun). From the Old English lencten meaning springtime or spring. “The fast of Lent,” comes from the West Germanic for “long-days,” or “lengthening of the day.”

Lent (n.) the “period between Ash Wednesday and Easter,” from the late 14th century Lenten (n.) In the Christian calendar (early 12th century), “the forty days of fasting before Easter.” Also from the Old English lencten  meaning springtime or spring. “The fast of Lent,” comes from the West Germanic for “long-days,” or “lengthening of the day.”

In the Christian church, Lent is a time to meditate and reflect on the life of Jesus Christ: his life, affliction, atonement, death, burial, and resurrection. Lent’s length refers to the forty days he spent in the wilderness being tempted by Satan before beginning his public ministry (Matthew 4).

Lent is about our relationship with Christ. Like all relationships, it has seasons of trial and deprivation, as well as seasons of joy. Lent helps us see where our wants have become distorted into needs. It’s the humble acknowledgment that our appetites can and should make us more forgiving.

Lent is a promise to walk with Jesus. To put our hand in His trustingly, no matter what it requires—into the wilderness or to the cross. Lent is the time to renew our promise to follow Jesus. Just as Naomi said to Ruth, “Wither thou goest, I will go.” (Ruth 1:16 KJV)

The trap of Lent is legalism. The spiritual practice of fasting from food, a vice, a bad habit, or a pleasure. Lent should not be confused with New Year’s resolutions. Nor is it a self-improvement project.

Lent is a time of repentance—an awareness that sin separates us from God and what it cost Jesus Christ to reunite us. Perhaps Lent might be a time to give up our resolutions and instead listen for God’s leading.

by Debora Buerk
Selah Community

Excerpt from
Reflections: A Journey through Lent into Easter
Debora Buerk, Editor
Available on Amazon

What Lent Means to Me

Lent is a time we remember the passion of Jesus Christ (the Easter season when Christ completed his mission on earth at the cross). The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigor during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbors).

For my Muslim friends this is a bit like Ramadan. It’s a time to be sober, reflective and circumspect. A time to ponder the deeper things of Jesus Christ and how we are invited to faithfully follow his example. I think this could be a practice for our society in general, even if one doesn’t claim to be religious, or a Christian.

I welcome the time to draw closer to God, to reflect, and to try to do life more generously. Serving others. Being good neighbors. Loving our enemies. Being somebody who makes this world a better place. Watch this space.

Dr. Rev. Andrew Larsen
Selah Board of Directors
Pastor, Worldly Holiness,
and Photographer

About Dr. Rev. Andrew Larsen

Andrew Larsen works as a consultant and player-coach with many churches and organizations seeking to understand the “other” and empower peacemaking initiatives. He is a public speaker and preacher but also comes alongside as a teacher and leader to help groups engage each other. He utilizes relationship building between communities, often using photography and a growing network of relationships across the country in both churches and mosques. He aligns in ministry with the Covenant Church (consulting with both Love Mercy Do Justice and Serve Globally–departments within the denomination) but also collaborate with other groups. He helps advance this kind of ministry through multiple program ideas they’ve perfected over the years including: peace feasts, multi-faith dialogue events, “cultural listening” events where they learn about a specific demographic in the Muslim community, visits to the other community, and many other community building activities.

Additionally he works in peacemaking and storytelling in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, completing two documentary films called, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers: One Man’s Journey to the Heart of Palestine” and just recently finishing another movie, “Make Hummus, Not Walls.”

Excerpt from
Reflections: A Journey through Lent into Easter
from Selah Center
Available now on Amazon

The History of Lent

By Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center

Ash Wednesday is the day on which the season of Lent begins. It is named for the ashes used in the service to make the sign of the cross on one’s forehead. Created from last year’s Palm Sunday palms, the ashes are used to remind worshipers that all humans are mortal, hence the phrase used at committal services in cemeteries: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” This phrase, in turn, is based in part on Genesis 3:19, the concluding words of God’s words to Adam who hides in shame, recognizing the separation from God that entered human experience and history in the Garden of Eden:

                        By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for
out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust, you shall return

Genesis 3:19

The use of ashes is based on the practice in biblical times of imposing ashes as a sign of penitence and mourning about that separation. We are mourning sin that so easily entangles us and our world, the separation that leads to human mortality, resulting in death.

Lent is a period of forty days of spiritual preparation for Easter. The forty days are taken from Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness before His ministry began. The counting of the days excludes Sundays, which are regarded as “little Easters,” thus the total of 47 days. The English word “Lent” comes from a German word which means “spring.” The observance of a 40-day period of preparation for Easter in the Christian Church can be traced back as far as 325 AD. The name “Lent” came much later. Historically, it has especially involved the spiritual discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

In present time, regardless of a particular church tradition, the season becomes a time of reflection and intention to honor the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It provides a time to consider one’s own life in light of a relationship with the Holy Mystery we call God, knowing we are being invited, again and again, into a transforming communion. No longer separated, we linger in this place of prayer, fasting, and giving of ourselves to God and others. The faint hope of Easter, ever present, builds through the season, preparing our hearts to receive the gift of God’s self in Jesus the Christ, an ongoing discovery of what resurrection offers us all.

Blessing the Dust

For Ash Wednesday


All those days

you felt like dust,

like dirt,

as if all you had to do

was turn your face

toward the wind

and be scattered

to the four corners

or swept away

by the smallest breath

as insubstantial—

did you not know

what the Holy One

can do with dust?

This is the day

we freely say

we are scorched.

This is the hour

we are marked

by what has made it

through the burning.

This is the moment

we ask for the blessing

that lives within

the ancient ashes,

that makes its home

inside the soil of

this sacred earth.

So let us be marked

not for sorrow.

And let us be marked

not for shame.

Let us be marked

not for false humility

or for thinking

we are less

than we are

but for claiming

what God can do

within the dust,

within the dirt,

within the stuff

of which the world

is made

and the stars that blaze

in our bones

and the galaxies that spiral

inside the smudge

we bear.

Jan Richardson
Painted Prayer Book

To Begin Again

Trust and start walking.

We are not alone in the dark,

our path will unfold as we move.”

Paulo Coelho

Facing the Dragons

Mary Pandiani,
Executive Director
Selah Center

Every morning I get up early, or rather LucyLu, my dog gets me up early, to take her for a walk. I don’t complain because I love the early morning hours when there are very few people on the street in our little downtown area of Gig Harbor. In the quiet, I listen to the daily lectio divina with Pray-As-You-Go; I watch around me for the light slowly appearing; and I feel the fresh coolness of the morning air. In these ways I’m able to begin my day in the awareness of God’s abiding presence. The walking integrates my body-mind-heart into a wholistic approach for what comes to me in this new day.

On this morning, I hear the phrase again and again in my thoughts, “begin again; let’s begin again.” The night before I didn’t sleep much with too many dragons coming at me in my sleepy semi-conscious awakeness. With concerns for family members and friends, other worries about what’s not working in the world, and general getting older aches and pains, I wrestle all night. Finally dropping off to sleep around 4:30am, I find myself awake again at 6:30am. Then the dog needs her walk.

That’s when I hear the phrase, and carry it with me today. “Begin again; let’s begin again.” The walking serves as a reminder that I’m walking into freedom each time I begin again. My body begins to move, despite the tiredness, it needs to move. My mind releases the pressing thoughts to allow for God’s expansive revelations. And my heart opens to possibilities, listening for the invitation to surrender whatever I am holding into the loving arms of God’s love and welcoming presence.

If I’m honest, none of my concerns from the night’s dragons are solved, nor will they be any time soon. But it does seem those overwhelming thoughts that kept me from sleeping have crawled to sleep into a dragon’s lair (definition: a place where a wild animal, especially a fierce or dangerous one, lives). For the day then, I can remember what it’s like to walk into freedom rather than fear. The walking keeps the memory alive of freedom, so that perhaps when I rest, even go to sleep at night, I can face the wild animals that scare me.

If nothing else, I can enter the next day where I can “begin again.” That’s what walking into freedom is – not that we don’t have worries, concerns that keep us up at night – but rather that we can begin again, regaining strength and perspective for a new day. While there are still dragons and fears, I can trust that even the lair – the cave where the dragon resides  – it is held in the mountain of God’s omnipresence. That’s the Who and where I hope and walk into the “let’s begin again.”

2022 New Year

Greetings with Gratitude

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.

It turns what we have into enough, and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,

chaos to order,

confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

Gratitude makes sense of our past,

brings peace for today,

and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Melody Beattie

Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center

As we enter into a new year, we look back with gratitude for the year that has passed, one that has been difficult for our world on many levels while at the same time providing new experiences for us collectively and personally.

In gratitude, we greet you in this present moment of wherever you might be today. The gift of the moment opens us to the invitations that God has for us individually and as a community.

And we offer hope for what the future holds as we lean into the vision we have for 2022. To give you a taste of that gratitude and greeting, note the news below:

  • With your generosity – in presence, time and financial giving – for this last year, we are now abundantly poised to lean into the new invitations that God is asking of us. Over the last three-four years, we’ve been in a state of transition. Our founder, John Kiemele moved from his position as Executive Director to a companion along with his wife, Marissa, in our dispersed community. Then when Covid hit, we pivoted with what we had planned for the year to providing opportunities online.
  • In the midst of those changes, you have responded to our calls for ongoing support, especially to a monthly or spread-out-over-the-year donation. This stability provides us with the capacity to dream about what may be next. Our 2021 Advent-Christmas book, curated by Deb and Larry Buerk with Mark Cutshall, is a gift that keeps on giving with the over 120 copies we sold.
  • We have new companions joining us on February 3rd (see below for more details) who have decided that they want to be part of our community in an ongoing basis.

As you say goodbye to 2021 and move into 2022, remember that you are not alone on this contemplative journey as one being in community with Selah and the One who holds us together.

by Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center