Pilgrimage to the Sonoran Desert

Journey to the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, April 28-May 3, 2019, where we will immerse ourselves in the ancient Christian tradition of desert spirituality, exploring the contemplative path and learning from this fierce and unique landscape. Each day of our journey will contain elements of contemplation, group reflection, and exploration, with regular rhythms of communal practice and plenty of free time to experience the desert way of life. This journey is led by spiritual director and pilgrimage guide Lacy Clark Ellman (MATC ‘12) and spiritual director and retired faculty member Tom Cashman.

The entirety of our journey will be spent on the grounds of the Redemptorist Renewal Center. Bordering Saguaro National Park, the center features comfortable accommodations and beautiful desert scenery, with ancient petroglyphs and plenty of trails for exploring. Additional amenities include an outdoor chapel, labyrinth, library, bookstore, dining hall, and ensuite rooms with air conditioning.

Five nights accommodations in twin ensuite rooms and all meals throughout the journey (dinner April 28 through breakfast May 3) are included in the cost of registration. Registration also fully covers all teaching and facilitation, creative supplies, and full access to retreat center amenities. 20 continuing education units are available for chaplains, spiritual directors, and clergy.

Registration does not include flights and transportation to/from Redemptorist Renewal Center; travel insurance (“cancel for any reason” recommended); course reading materials; journal.

Registration is required by March 29. A non-refundable deposit of $275 is due at the time of registration. The balance may be paid in full at the time of registration or a payment plan may be selected. Balances are due in full by June 30, 2019.

Note on Accommodations: A limited number of single rooms are available for an additional fee. Those selecting a shared room who are traveling alone will be placed with another participant of the same gender.

Students: Please register via MyCampus and direct questions to academics@theseattleschool.edu


Our time together begins at 3:30 pm (local time) when we’ll gather together for an orientation to our location, the week’s theme, and the journey that awaits. Before our exploration of the Christian tradition of desert spirituality begins, we’ll first encounter the landscape through the lens of the indigenous people who have inhabited the area for millennia and have always experienced the desert to be a place of Sacred Encounter. After dinner, our day will end with a sunset labyrinth walk to mark the beginning of our journey inward.

Our daily rhythms of communal practice begin today, with a morning centering prayer sit in the outdoor chapel before breakfast. After breakfast, we’ll explore our theme of awareness as we begin our week-long journey of purgation, illumination, and union in the desert tradition, with additional guidance from Christian Mysticism scholar and author Amos Smith. As the desert heat rises, we’ll participate in a peer-led midday prayer service, with lunch and a free afternoon to follow. We’ll gather for group spiritual direction in the late afternoon to reflect on the day, and after dinner and free time for creative exploration, our day will close with a nightly examen in the outdoor chapel as the desert sun sets.

The path of purgation continues today as we explore the theme of surrender and kenosis, or “self-emptying.” After our morning sit and breakfast, we’ll walk the stations of the cross, led by Redemptorist brother, Father Greg Wiest, as we explore the self-emptying invitation of the archetypal Christ—a theme we’ll continue to unpack in our morning gathering. Our day then continues with its usual rhythms of peer-led midday prayer, lunch, free time, and group spiritual direction, with dinner in the evening followed by free time for creative exploration and our nightly examen to end the day.

As we enter the stage of illumination, we begin the practice we’ve been preparing for all along: our desert sit. After our morning sit and breakfast, we’ll gather briefly for instructions and ritual. Then, you’ll be sent out into the desert to a location of your choice, where you will stay for two hours, releasing what you need to let go of and receiving all that the desert—and, perhaps, the Divine—has to give. As the desert sit comes to a close, we’ll gather reverently in community again for our remaining daily rhythms of peer-led midday prayer, lunch, free time, group spiritual direction, dinner, creative exploration, and nightly examen.

Our final full day in the desert is one of integration and union. After our morning sit and breakfast, we’ll spend the morning in practice, conversation, and reflection as we review our experiences of the week and begin to consider how we might integrate the wisdom of the desert into our everyday life upon our return. Just before lunch, we’ll gather for our final peer-led midday prayer, with a few more hours of desert free time in the afternoon and a final group spiritual direction section to unpack the sacred stirrings of the week. After dinner and free time for creative exploration, we will end our day with our last Sonoran sunset as we practice our nightly examen.

After our last morning sit and breakfast, we’ll close our time together with a sending ritual and a final labyrinth walk, ending our journey just as we began and finishing by 10 am (local time).