Along with 34 new Catholic friends, I spent 3 days last weekend on a retreat called “Dry Heat — How the desert fathers and mothers found God in the desert.” The retreat was sponsored by the Casa, a Franciscan retreat center in Paradise Valley, up on the north side of Phoenix. (We were encouraged to walk the Labyrinth, [L], very similar to the one shown here.)
Our retreat leader was Tom Booth, a well-known Catholic songwriter and retreat director. Among other songs composed by Booth, we sang his beautiful Here I am two or three times during the retreat. Take a listen. It is lovely.
Here is Booth in an interview in Relevant Magazine.
Booth is a graduate of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction near Tuscon. Booth was raised in Tuscon and still lives there.
Booth’s dear mother was at the retreat, which made it special. She told me she grew up in Lexington, KY, but had bad allergies. Somehow her parents heard about the possibility of taking her to the southwest, thinking a drier climate would be good for her health.
And, well, that’s what they did. In August 1952, she said her folks drove her across the country to start as a freshman at the University of Arizona in Tuscon. I tried to imagine that drive way back in the day. No interstates. No Circle K. No McDonalds. She said the trip from Lexington, Kentucky, to Tuscan, Arizona, took them almost a week. “I cried all the way from Lexington to Tuscon,” she said. “But I quickly fell in love with the place. I have never left.”
By the way, Booth is very good friends with the well-known Catholic musician John Michael Talbot.
During our days together we practiced different ways of praying, including praying the Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Writer and priest Henri Nouwen says, “The Jesus Prayer, like no other, challenges us to hide absolutely nothing from God and so surrender ourselves unconditionally to his mercy.”
As you know, of course, God’s people are everywhere. What a privilege, and what fun, to meet some dear Catholic saints seeking him out here in the Sonoran Desert.