Manna for Desert Days

something of beauty

and a meaningful quotation

speaking of trees, Wendell Berry says:

They stand and grow.  Time comes

To them, time goes, the trees

Stand; the only place

They go is where they are.

These wholly patient ones

Who only stand and wait      

For time to come to them,

Who do not go to time,

Stand in eternity.

They stand where they belong.

(from IX, Sabbaths, 2000)



Note: These letters are fictional, but based on an article from  on February 22, 2019.

June 16, 2018

Dear Mama,

          I woke up in my bunk last night screaming from a nightmare.  I dreamt I was crammed into that hole in the bushes behind our outhouse back in El Salvador.  Gang members were screaming at you and hitting you, but you refused to tell them where I was, because you knew they were planning to rape me again.  Oh Mama, I miss you so much, but I think I may be safe at last.  My journey here was long and hard, but my memories of the terror back home kept me going.  When I finally reached the United States border, I asked for asylum so I could live my life without constant fear.  Some of the border agents were a bit rough.  Others were kinder.  They sent me to this shelter, where I now live with lots of other kids who took the same lonely journey I took.  We don’t talk much to each other.  We simply don’t know who to trust.  I cry every night, Mama, and I hear lots of other kids crying in their bunks too. 

          But this shelter isn’t too bad, Mama.  We do have food every day.  We go to classes. We play games. Someone called my “case manager” tells me she’s looking for an adult sponsor who will care for me until my appeal for asylum is considered by a judge.  I don’t see this “manager” very often, though, and when I do, I see that her desk is piled high with many, many files. It doesn’t make me feel very hopeful, but still, every day I hope and hope and hope for good news.  And tomorrow, Mama, tomorrow I turn 18!  My birthday!  I wonder if anyone here will know that and will wish me a Happy Birthday.  I hope so.

Love, Fabiola


August 17, 2018

Dear Mama,

          I curse the day I turned 18!  On the morning of my birthday, two men in black uniforms with ICE written across their jackets called me out of class.  They didn’t say much.  Just told me to stand still while they put ankle chains on me!  I cried and cried and told them I had done nothing wrong.  “I’m a good girl,” I said.  “Today is my 18th birthday.” 

          “We know,” was all they said.  They put me into their big van and drove me away from the shelter to this place, where I now live in a cell.  ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) tells me I am now all grown up, so I have to stay in this detention center for adult illegal immigrants.  But Mama, it’s really a part of a prison, and it feels very, very scary.  I still get food every day, but there are no classes here for me to learn, and it’s usually pretty dark and cold.  I keep telling anyone who will listen that I have never committed a crime.  That I am not a criminal.  But no one listens to me.   ICE.  As cold as its name.   I cry every night, and I hear others crying in their cells too.  I’ve been here now for two months.  “Perhaps,” they say, “perhaps one day an attorney will come and help you find a sponsor.”  Perhaps.  Pray for me, Mama.  I haven’t done anything wrong.  I just want to get out of here.  I just want to be with kids my age.  I want to be able to go to school.   I just want to be able to live a good life.  I am so sad. 

Love, Fabiola


link to NPR article:


Some Background Information

          Congress passed legislation in 2008 that instructed ICE to place unaccompanied immigrant children up to the age of 18 “in the least restrictive setting available.”  Usually, that “least restrictive setting” is a group home, called a “shelter.”  There are about 130 such shelters run by the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement).  In 2013, Congress amended this legislation to extend this same protection to immigrants who turn 18 in U.S. custody.

          However, from 2016-2018, two-thirds of immigrant children who turned 18 while still in an ORR shelter were transferred (often on their birthdays) to ICE detention centers.  This practice clearly does not accord with the intent of the law, as ICE detention centers are very restrictive.   

Some Possible Responses

  • Share this post with others, so more will know what is happening to young adults like “Fabiola.”
  • Contact your Senators and Representatives to urge that the current practice (transferring those who turn 18 in ORR shelters to ICE detention centers) be explicitly banned and that specific options for better treatment be outlined and provided for.
  • Pray for those like “Fabiola” who are being held in ICE detention centers.


p.s. Thanks to daughter Karla, who has visited a number of those detained in ICE detention centers, for her help with this post.


Friendship of Jesus


Coptic Friendship Icon, 7h century A.D., Egypt

In this ancient icon, Jesus stands to the right, his large eyes seeming to encompass eternity.  In his right hand, Jesus holds a large book, presumably the Word of God.  The left hand of Jesus rests supportively on the shoulder of Menas, an early Christian martyr who lived in Egypt and Turkey from 285-309 A.D.  In his hand, Menas holds a scroll, on which it is assumed he is writing the story of his life.  The following is a poem I wrote as I spent time with this icon, a favorite, by the way, of Brother Roger of Taize.


As I scribble out my days

on the aging parchment wrapped

around my fragile life, a sometimes sharp,

insistent loneliness slips through

the letters that spill out; I long

for something more, a word, a sentence  

from beyond, a “yes” to reassure

that there is meaning, purpose

to my life, that I am not alone; 

impossible yearnings, I know,

 God so busy in our sprawling

world of death and life and questions

stretching far beyond all answers,

but, impossible though it might be,

sometimes that “yes” is there–

don’t ask me how–

I can’t explain the Presence–

nor the Absence, real as that is too–

but now and then there is that arm,

nailed once to wood of shame and isolation,

resting gentle on my shoulders,

eternal “yes” to all the empty spaces

on my scroll and in my life. 


Manna for Desert Days

I want, from time to time, to post a picture of something beautiful, along with a quotation that has been meaningful in my life.  The pictures all come from my camera or from daughter Karla’s camera; the quotations I have gathered over many years.  Hope these posts might be helpful to you.  I like to think of them as manna for our desert days.


A.J. Muste (1885-1967) is a man remembered for his work in the labor movement, the pacifist movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the civil rights movement.  He is known to have stood with a candle for many nights outside the White House, protesting decisions of the government.  A reporter once asked him if he really thought such action would change the policies of the government.  Muste replied “Oh I don’t do this to change the country. I do this so the country won’t change me.”


Emptiness fills my world

this bleak midwinter day;

cold seeps into my walls,

sits heavy in my rocking chair,

spreads icily across the sky, a shroud

wrapped tight around the color

that I ache for in my life.


I lift my eyes in wonder to the

trees in my backyard, stark branches

stretched across the leaden sky;

fragile spider webs, they hold

this emptiness so gracefully;

mysteries of barren stillness,

patience of a waiting rest.


Engine against th’ Almighty

“Gare St. Lazare” (Claude Monet 1840-1926)


Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,

God’s breath in man returning to his birth,

The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,

The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth

Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,

Exalted manna, gladness of the best,

Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,

The milky way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,

The land of spices; something understood.

(George Herbert (1593-1633)


          Prayer.  Something we will never fully understand.   Something that eludes all of our attempts at explanations.  Yet, despite our inability to understand the mystery of prayer, we pray.  Sometimes in desperation.  Sometimes in hope.  Sometimes in awe and gratitude.  Sometimes in simple trust.

          George Herbert, 17th century poet and pastor, was a man who prayed.  A lot.  Prayed especially to listen for and to experience God’s presence in his life.  In his short poem “Prayer,” Herbert offers us a sumptuous feast of images to describe the mystical experience of his prayers:  “church’s banquet,” “the soul in paraphrase,” “God’s breath in man returning to his birth,” “sinner’s tow’r,” “bird of Paradise,” “land of spices,” to note just a few.

          So rich these images.  Quite beyond the reach of most of us.   Herbert, a one-time member of Parliament, later a pastor in a small rural setting, clearly experienced God in profound ways during his times of meditative prayer.  He loved the God to whom he prayed, and he loved his “milky way,” his “church-bells beyond the stars” times of prayerful communion with his God. 

          But prayer for Herbert was not confined to the mystical and the meditative. Two powerful images in his poem stand out as quite different from the “softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss” of his more contemplative experience.   “Engine against th’Almighty.”  “Reversed thunder.”  These two images speak of prayer that pleads with God on behalf of the needs of others or asks God to help with personal needs.  Herbert clearly believes that our prayers do somehow touch God, and he “images” petitionary prayer as very powerful.  No “softness and peace” here.  These prayers look more like the steam engine in Monet’s “Gare St. Lazare,” as it thunders into the station spewing forth billows and billows of steam.

          As poet and as wise pastor, Herbert doesn’t try to explain how our prayers might influence God.  Nor does he offer a sure-fire formula for “how to pray to get what you want.”   He makes no promises that we will receive just what we pray for.  He simply describes the power of intercessory prayer.  “Engine against th’Almighty.”  “Reversed thunder.” 

          Through his own personal prayer experience and through the experiences of his parishioners, I’m sure Herbert had known times when his intercessory prayers did seem to bring about the very change for which he asked, in his life or in the lives of others.   But I’m sure he also knew times when his intercessory prayers did not result in the changes for which he asked, but, instead, brought about changes in his attitude and understanding of that for which he prayed.  He would have remembered that this was certainly the experience of Jesus in Gethsemane.  Jesus’ prayer was, I believe, an engine thundering against the Almighty.  A plea.  A cry of desperation as Jesus’ sweat became drops of blood.  “Let this cup pass from me!”  But the cup did not pass.  Jesus walked through the agony of desertion by his followers and then felt utterly forsaken as he hung on that Roman cross bearing the weight of the sins of the world.  Yet, somehow, through his thunderous prayer, Jesus was given the strength to say “if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

          “Engine against th’Almighty.”  “Reversed thunder.”  Vivid descriptions of intercessory pray.  I see these images also as an expression of some of the anger, frustration, weariness, and despair we sometimes feel towards God.  I hear in these little phrases an encouragement not to run from our anger at God, but rather to let it roar as a powerful engine, trusting that God will never turn away from us, but will always listen carefully to us, accepting the thunder of all our questions, doubts, despair, anger, and frustration. 

          “Church-bells beyond the stars heard.”  “Land of spices.”  “Reversed thunder.”  “Exalted manna.”   Such a banquet for our souls at prayer.  Exotic dishes to help us taste some of the richness of the gift of contemplative prayer.  To help us experience more of the power of petitionary prayer in a renewed awareness that, in the end, come what may, we pray to a God who is a God of love and resurrection.  To give us courage to be completely honest before God in our prayers—to let the thunder of our questions, doubts, and anger roll. 

          Deep mystery this thing called “prayer.”  Something truly beyond our grasp.  Herbert concludes his poem with two simple words, “something understood.”  Not “everything” understood.  Merely “something.”  Just enough to keep us at it.  Just enough to keep us reaching for those “church-bells beyond the stars heard.” 




Unto Us a Child Is Born

from The Angel Tree

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York


In this post, I want to share one of my favorite nativity scenes (above) and one of my favorite Denise Levertov poems (below).  Christmas blessings to all!


On the Mystery of the Incarnation

Denise Levertov

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.