I am a bit confused by her direction, but I see nothing more for me in the garden, so I follow her advice and continue down the hall. Beyond the rooms, the corridor opens to stairs similar to those at the other end of the garden. After a handful of steps, I enter an empty courtyard. There are no plants or shrubs or fountains to see here. Everything on the terrace is stone, monotone slabs surrounded by statues, all edged by a stone wall. Directly in front of me, another set of stone steps lead down to a wooden gate. Sand leaks through the gate, scattering itself across the rough stone tile. An empty feeling comes over me as I look at the gate. It is such a drastically different environment from the lush garden just seconds away.
Moving away from the bounty, I walk down the steps and through the courtyard. Even in its barrenness, the porch is still beautiful. The stones are varying shades of orange and patterned with perfect precision. Whether it is plants or fountains or stone, nothing to me is as beautiful as those things produced by nature. Every time humans try to duplicate her creation, they fall shy of the beauty she produces. Even the words I use to convey it fall short.
Sand grinds under my feet as I lay my hand upon the handle of the gate. With little effort, it swings inward, inviting me to the vast and beautiful desert beyond. Dunes extend to a horizon I know will only exist until the next wind blows them into a new definition of reality. I stand in awe of the immeasurable beauty, taking a deep breath, and then I step beyond the gate, closing it and the bliss of the garden it represents behind me.
I follow desert sand for some time, passing over dune after dune until I finally spy a low round range of mountains in the distance. I look to the sky and expect about four more hours of daylight. I am grateful to know the sun will soon set. The sand is deep and hot in the almost-summer sun, and I must travel far to reach the final rise before the great stone monolith.
As I step into the shadow at the base of the mountain, I find a crevice snaking toward its center. I travel the twists and turns, occasionally looking up to the sky as it makes it journey from blue to indigo. I wonder if my walk will end in daylight. It does only moments later as I step out of the crevice and into a large bowl. The stone walls surrounding the bowl glow against dusk’s fading light.
A man sits cross-legged at the heart of the mountain with his back to me. He is wearing a pale brown robe. The hood is pulled over his head, concealing him. Were it not for his robe’s texture and tone, I might have mistaken him to be one of the boulders littering the otherwise open space.
I inch forward, cautiously watching the edge of his hood as I approach, hoping to see who he might be. As I come to where he sits in the sand, I notice a prayer rug lying on the ground before him. He is diligently laying sticks in a distinctive pattern on the tapestry and then retrieving them, only to lay them in the same order again. He is not anxious or obsessive about his work. He is calm and focused upon the prayer he offers. As I come to stand before him, he gestures to the sand for me to sit. He does this within a single, fluid motion, never stopping the rhythmic pattern of laying down and picking up his sticks.
The moment I sit, the scene around us changes. We are on a beach, and while he still sits directly across from me, the man now leans over the sand on his knees. His robe is white now, and the hood is gathered at the back of his neck, exposing even brown hair cascading in waves down his back. There is a bright, blue ocean to the right of me and rich green palms to my left. He now holds long, artist’s paintbrushes in his hands, which he lays in a line, smallest to largest, across the prayer rug. But he does not retrieve the brushes this time. He lifts his head to look into my eyes.
I recognize the face I’ve seen displayed at nearly every Christian church I’ve ever entered. I remember pictures from my childhood and all of the stories to go with them. But as he sits before me, he is not collapsed upon a cross or spreading his hands in a broad show of love and acceptance. He is not the teacher sitting in front of peaceful children or upturned faces of adoration. He is modest and human, and his features are kind. He smiles broadly at me. I cannot help but return a generous grin.
Upon this exchange, he comes to his knees and holds his arms high above his head. I feel as if he is asking me to see, and I know this is good.
I nod my understanding of what he says to me, and he returns to sitting upon his heels. He moves with a childlike bliss and exuberance. His sheer joy is contagious, and I wish I could be in his presence always. Carefully, he rolls the rug, capturing the brushes within and hands it to me.
I am humbled. Tears form in my eyes, but do not fall as I bow in gratitude.
He smiles broadly at my response and offers a dramatic bow in return.
As he bows, the scene changes again. I am now deep in the forest, kneeling on a bed of pine needles, with the prayer rug in my lap. I wear a leather dress, with beaded fringe across the chest. Long black hair intermingles with the beads, setting off their bright colors. I look around to see tall, green pines blocking my view of the sun. Large dark trunks are nestled in the thicket which surrounds me. The forest is dense and filled with the rustling of life.
I gently pull the rug from where it lies in my lap and set it on the ground before me. As I slowly unroll it, I see the paintbrushes are now laid out among arrowheads. I carefully begin laying the brushes in order, concentrating on my prayer, and making each move with intent and honor.
Just as the tools come to order on the rug, I wake to find myself kneeling on my bed, reaching over to prepare the tools before me. I seldom move in my sleep. I look around, wondering just how engaged I was and what this dream could mean. I cannot imagine the message, but I sense its importance. So, I don’t return to sleep immediately. I stop, and I pray for a clear understanding of what I am being given.
While I do not understand the images today, I feel great joy in my heart throughout the prayer, and as I finish, I smile. I feel him smiling with me.
Reaching for my pen and paper, I know I have accepted a calling. I do not know what I will be called to do, but I know it is not small. I hope I can live up to it.