Monastic Strategies: A Summer of Drought and Fire

Monastic Strategies: A Summer of Drought and Fire July 1, 2021

Monastic Strategies: A Summer of Drought and Fire

A Summer of Drought and Fire

When I was growing up, the place where I live now was a land of endless summer, filled with sun and surfing. Now we are beginning another summer of drought and fire.

I drive up the coast each summer to spend time on retreat at New Camaldoli, the hermitage where I am a lay oblate. One summer I was not able to go because a winter storm had washed out the highway both north and south of the hermitage. I was not able to go last summer, again, but not because of the pandemic or the quarantine.

The monastery was surrounded by fire when I planned to go last summer. Most of the monks were evacuated. There was no serious damage to the buildings. The grounds of the hermitage were a staging area for the Army’s and the state’s firefighting teams.

The hermitage is now open again, and I will make my regular trip late in August. I have not gone anywhere for more than a year. The drive up will be full of new revelations.

Natural beauty fills the trip up the Pacific coast. The topography can take your breath away.

This year promises to be another summer of drought and fire.

Many of us have discovered climate change like the frogs in the kettle in the story. The temperature in our pot went up slowly, a degree or two at a time. We had plenty of time to settle into each new normal.

Now we realize we have gone from endless summers of sand and sun to summers of drought and fire.

How will we discern and interpret the wisdom of drought and fire in our lives?

Each of us faces our own endless summers of fun in the sun, and summers of drought and fire.

Spiritual Life in Drought and Fire

Some of us believe spiritual life exists to comfort us.

Many of us depend on spiritual life like a security blanket or a stuffed animal, warm and soft. We like to call on spiritual life when we need it to do what we want.

Living here, I have learned spiritual life is more like drought and fire.

Spiritual life is unpredictable. Just when we think we have things sorted out, when we think we understand, everything changes. We believe life is going well, then it does not rain for a few years. It feels like spiritual life has dried up and blown away.

Because of the drought, a fire may burn away what we have acquired. Some people tell us we are crazy to live here, maybe we want to move somewhere safe.

Spiritual life is not meant to keep us safe. The point of spiritual life is to be transformed. We become our true selves by exploring and discovering. How will we ever know who we are if we always remain comfortable? Spiritual life holds onto us in the midst of our summers of drought and fire.

Fire has become my favorite image of spiritual life. We find spiritual life in the flames of candles. Fire warms us and gives us light.

It is important for us to remember fire is always just outside our control. We may spark it into existence, feed it, and look for wisdom in its shadows. Fire demands our attention. It is never truly domesticated, always remaining wild.

Fire is not safe. It can engulf entire cities and burn our skin. Fire is more powerful than we like to remember.

The spark of spiritual life sets our hearts on fire.

Everything which is not essential is burned away.

Our Summers of Drought and Fire

We each face our own summers of drought and fire.

Many of us feel a hot, arid breath on our face as we emerge from our protective quarantines. We step outside to find fires already burning around us.

Our drought and fire may be about growing older, far from people we love. They could be about our fears and anxieties, frustrations and regrets.

We find ourselves in heat domes of our own making, struggling to breathe and discern our path.

Last summer, even when I could not visit New Camaldoli, I remembered it was still there.

I did not take the drive up the Pacific coast and was not able to chant or sit in stillness with the monks. Even so, the monastery was still there. It was not the same as being there, but I was still able to recognize spiritual life in the midst of drought and fire.

Spiritual life, like the monastery, is a network of people which stretches around the globe. We pray together. It is always time for morning prayer, and for evening prayer, somewhere in the world.

We pray for each other in our times of drought and fire.

The same spiritual life is within us.

Living in Drought and Fire

Many of us live facing constant drought and fire. We are tired and afraid, and tired of being afraid.

Some of us have a difficult time connecting to spiritual life through the haze of arid, smoky air. It feels to us like spiritual life is as ethereal or ephemeral as smoke.

We make feel abandoned or rejected by spiritual life. Where is the comfort and reassurance we are supposed to experience? It is difficult for us to believe in the loving presence of spiritual life when we feel the flames licking our faces.

Taking time to sit still and listen, we open ourselves to spiritual life within us and in the world around us. We pray for people who are facing their own summers of drought and fire, and remember they are praying for us.

Drought and fire may destroy what we do not need, what we have grown used to having. Spiritual life reminds us we have what is most essential.

How will we pray for each other today in this summer of drought and fire?

Where will we face drought and fire this week?

[Image by ASPatrick]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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