On Wilderness: Testing or Temptation?

Sharing a reflection from Selah’s friend and former board treasurer, Lisa Veitenhans:

Eugene Peterson wrote, “… we see Jesus as the way we come to God. Jesus is also the way God comes to us.”

He also threw out a couple more zingers in this particular sermon (see below), comparing being in the wilderness for 40 days as being more like time in Eden and the nuance of the original language offering a coin flip definition of “Testing-Temptation,” with testing being something you do to confirm that something works and temptation being something that wants failure.

Imagine that our loving Lord comes to you and says, “Come with me to the quiet places where we can be totally together, free from distraction. You’ll leave all your regular duties, and comforts, behind, but don’t worry, you’ll be completely cared for, even by Wilderness itself. What will happen? Intense learning? Yes! Beauty? Beyond what you can imagine! Clarity? When distraction is gone, purpose will become clear. When we are done you’ll be ready to take the test.”

I would say, “Test? What test? Can’t we just go along together forever as we are?” Isn’t that how we want things to be? Sun shining, hearts smiling, comfort abounding places are so lovely! But that isn’t the way life actually happens (at least not yet). Sometimes we must have challenges. New challenges focus my attention, whether I want it to or not.

The first time I looked at the wilderness as more of an invitation to Eden than a pass/fail walk into some punishment, I felt my shoulders drop. My anxiety about failing God and not being able to resist temptation had always felt overwhelming. “Will I remember all the scriptures I need? Will I fail in the final second?” But this other way of looking at Testing-Temptation… I thought of a favorite teacher, who handed out the year end test, winking at me. He knew I would pass with flying colors in spite of my nerves because he knew me well enough to know I was ready. God knows our readiness much better than we do. So maybe the Testing- Temptation is more for us to know we are ready.

Peterson also says, “However necessary the wilderness is, it is temporary, an in-between time, and a place not intended to characterize an entire life. Wilderness life is a strenuous life. It cannot be endured indefinitely.”

But it can be endured for 40 days. Welcome to Lent. May each of us Christians all over this globe with all our forms and ways enter our little wildernesses where God meets us, prepares us and blesses us with his presence and love.

— As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene H. Peterson

Thoughts in Silence

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

submitted by Doreen Olson
Selah Community

Merton, Thomas. “Thoughts in Solitude,”
NY, NY: The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. 1956

Keeping a Holy Lent

Create in me a beautiful heart, O God,
and put a new and faithful spirit within me


Joel 2:12-14

12 But there’s also this, it’s not too late—

God’s personal Message!—

“Come back to me and really mean it!

Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!”

13-14 Change your life, not just your clothes.

Come back to God, your God.

And here’s why: God is kind and merciful.

He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot,

This most patient God, extravagant in love,

always ready to cancel catastrophe.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll do it now,

maybe he’ll turn around and show pity.

Maybe, when all’s said and done,

there’ll be blessings full and robust for your God!

The Message Bible



Take all of who I am,

the me-ness of me,

what makes me who I am,

the special, the unique,

the brilliant and the unpardonable,

all I’m so proud of, and so ashamed,

that I’ve worked so hard to fashion,

that I’m still working on,

what I can’t part with

because there wouldn’t be

anything left of me—

take it.

Take it.

I lay it in your hands.

Gather it into yourself,

into your dark, generous mystery,

and in the flame of your creating heart

burn it.

Then into the dust and ashes

breathe your breath,

and with gratitude

I will receive

who rises

when in your grace

you give me anew.

Steve Garnass-Holmes


Steve Garnaas-Holmes,
Used with permission.

From Craving to Longing

After hearing these words from God the Father “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life,” [1] Jesus leaves the place of his baptism to enter into the wilderness (also known as the desert). From a place of abundant public belovedness to the quiet and solitary dismantling of all that is more easily relied upon, namely food and comfort, Jesus moves toward the unknown in his desire to hear God’s voice.

Speaking of food, because it is definitely on my mind, my husband, Bill, and I are doing the Whole30 nutritional plan to address some health goals while eliminating those foods that tend to create more cravings and addictions. We’re in the phrase where all I can think about is what I’m not eating, and wishing I could. It happens that our decision coincides with Lent which helps in the motivation to join Jesus in his fasting while in the desert.

However, I’m not so sure I have the same attitude as Jesus. While I would like to hear God’s voice, all I can hear right now are my cravings for foods that don’t really satisfy over time. Craving by definition is a “powerful desire for.” As I admit the reality of my cravings, I find some comfort in realizing that it’s not that far off from what Jesus was having as a craving, only his was to be in communion by intentionally being present to God through solitude and silence in his fasting. He lives into his powerful desire to be with God the Father and Creator of all.

I’m wandering and wondering through my own wilderness of giving up foods that I normally enjoy about what a craving, or even deeper, a longing means to be in communion with God. It is here that I turn to the book In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen where he describes the first test of Jesus in the desert. Jesus faces the first test of three temptations from the Devil who says “[s]ince you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread. Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.’ ”[2]

Nouwen relates how the Devil appeals to the desire we have to be able to fix what’s immediately in front of us, to choose those things that make the most sense for the situation we’re in. If you’re hungry and you have the capacity to make food, why not change stones into bread? Make things right that need to be made right.

But Nouwen addresses something deeper than the seemingly obvious need of food. What’s the motivation behind wanting to make things right in that very moment, touching the chord of our humanity to do what we can as soon as we can? The attractive proposition, or test as commonly cited in this scene, is the desire, the craving, the longing to be relevant in that moment. By relevant, Nouwen describes it as those places where “the self can do things, show things, prove things, build things.”[3] Could it be that we, like Jesus, are being asked to consider another way – a third way – that doesn’t respond immediately to what is relevant? Could it be that we are called into a different posture to speak what is more true, a discernment that comes from being in relationship with God?

That posture is prayer. Moving towards God again and again in the longing to be in communion – that is prayer. Instead of reacting to what it immediate, we can lean into a listening place where we no longer rely on what makes us relevant, or more intelligent, or more adept at a particular skill like changing stones into bread. We can live within the “steady stream of words [spiritual nourishment] from God’s mouth.” Jesus experiences freedom in the desert, even in the midst of his fasting. He knows the longing beyond the perceived craving, a knowing that comes in his willingness to stay focused on the One who fulfills those longings.

Our prayer does not mean we don’t act when we are called to act. Rather, Nouwen offers this perspective: [S]ecurely rooted in the personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. [4]

Perhaps then, for me, if I consider this third way, I may not seek to be relevant as much as seek the one who is my source of life. In fact, as I continue this nutritional plan (my own type of fasting), I might be a bit kinder to my husband, an act of being gentle and forgiving. Even more so, I may have the capacity, while in the hardest of places, to frame the way in which I act toward others through the lens of love that comes from communion. Like Jesus offers, it takes more than bread to stay alive. To live fully alive means to be present to God.

  • Mary Pandiani, Executive Director

[1] Matthew 3:17b, The Message

[2] Matthew 3:3-4

[3] Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, (NY,NY: Crossroads, 1989), p.16.

[4] Ibid, p. 32.

God of Love and Life

God of love and life

the pattern of your presence among us is clear enough:
You give and we receive.
You give with overwhelming generosity,
and we receive with our customary casualness.
You give more than we can ask or imagine,
and we receive, sometimes in wonder.

You give us life and breath, and we receive.
You give miracles of newness, and we receive.
You give rain and sunshine and food, and we receive.
You give yourself in prophetic voice,
and in the most unexpected holy people, and we receive.
You take and bless and break and give, and we receive.

But sometimes you challenge us in overwhelming mystery
and awesome destruction.
The world shakes on its foundations and we are terrified.
The waters move beyond their bounds and we feel engulfed.
The mountains crush the valleys
and we cry from the buried depths.

Do not, we pray, allow our hearts to go numb
when this happens.
Do not, we beg, allow us to give in to a tempting paralysis.
Move us, in those times of dread,
to take our turn as the givers,
so that all may find food and shelter and care and nourishment.
Open our heart to hear the cries of those who weep,
so that what we have received from you in abundance,
may be passed on to all.
Help us, O God who is love,
and O Love who is God,
to love even in our own faltering way.

God of Life and Love,
the pattern of your presence among us is clear:
You give and we receive;
You challenge and we are afraid.
Be with us as we learn again to see you
in the giving and the receiving,
the generosity and the fear,
the alarm and the hope.
And let us learn to repeat with the psalmist:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46:1)

-Mary Taylor, modified from Julian of Norwich



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

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

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Celebrating Valentine’s Day

By Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center

 Something about being forced to say “I Love You” on a particular day of the year just doesn’t sit right with me. I admit that as a kid I enjoyed the opportunity to create Valentines for friends and family, as well as receive them. However, in my adult years, the compulsory nature of the celebration makes me a bit cynical about Hallmark or other card companies trying to make more money. To be coerced to love doesn’t seem like love.

That is until I remember, that while I’m not coerced to love, I have been commanded to love. In fact, of all the commands in Scripture, the greatest commandment is to love the One who also asks us to love the other as we love ourselves. Perhaps in a world so bent on division, it’s not such a bad idea to show our love on a particular day, sharing in a tangible way the love we have for them. If only we were to employ the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you want them to do unto you,” we would see a world that operates out of kindness rather than out of contentiousness and aggression we see or encounter. In fact, we might find we could be with one another in conversation and community, whether we agreed on issues or not. Maybe I don’t have to see this day of love as coercion, but rather, it’s a day that can turn a day into a week to a month to a year to a life of sharing in love.

Pope Francis has some words on the kind of love that we’ve been given which impacts our love for others.

Why do good to people who are not willing to accept you? It is a question that we too often ask ourselves. But it is a question that helps us understand God better. Faced with our closures, he does not withdraw: he does not put brakes on his love . Faced with our closures, he goes forward. We see a reflection of this in parents who are aware of the ingratitude of their children, but do not stop loving them and doing good to them, because of this. God is the same, but at a much higher level. And today he invites us too to believe in good, to leave no stone unturned in
doing good.”
Pope Francis

Maybe when I look at today, instead of asking “what does love got to do with it?” I can wonder about God who loves us regardless of my state of being, who always moves toward me. Perhaps then, I can move toward another, loving those that are easy to love and telling them so; as well, I can love those, or at the very least, be kind to those who irritate or disagree with me. Maybe Valentine’s Day is about movement towards one another, lovable or not, and it’s not buying another card…although a card is nice to receive too.

by Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center

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

Moving Toward Wholeness

With Intention, Selah is Moving Towards Wholeness

God’s invitation of transformation extends love to us through relationship with and in God by the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the working of the Holy Spirit, and the abundant outpouring of grace by the Creator God.

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.

For those who have participated in Living From the Heart, you know that the focus of the year includes Transformation – a Moving Towards Wholeness. As this image of Kintsugi* suggests, we bring our brokenness to God, knowing the One who restores us to the beautiful vessel we are always meant to be.

May this new year be one of Kintsugi –
a Moving Towards Wholeness for you –
through the grace of God. 

Kintsugi (golden joinery) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum…As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”

-by Mary Pandiani
Executive Director
Selah Center