Walking in the woods today with Gibbs was hard work. The trail was not well tamped down since our last storm that dumped about a foot of snow on us, and with each step I was sinking in 3 to 4 inches. Even Gibbs, with his prancing walk and four paws, was sinking into the snow one to two inches. And every so often I would have to stop to stamp the accumulated clumps of snow from my boots so I didn’t feel like I was wearing platform shoes. Yet the woods were still and beautiful, silent and calming…. And it might be my last time to walk in the snow this year as the rain is heading in tonight.
As I walked I opened myself to listening to the woods to see what they had to teach me today. Just letting the steps and the peace soak into me. I reached a point where there was a cross made by two broken trees, highlighted in snow. I called Gibbs to my side and we sat a while with that cross, pondering this season of Lent and how it leads to the cross. And this cross I found in the woods was made of a broken branch hanging down across a broken tree. Sitting with this nature’s cross I wondered what needs to be broken from my life? What clumps need to be knocked off my boots (or out of my life) because I no longer need them? And what hopes and new life can be seen emerging from the brokenness of the branches? What new life will they bear?
After a while, I continued to walk with these questions in my heart when suddenly the previously silent woods erupted in a cacophony of sound. I had reached the crest of hill that was alive with bird song. No where else had the birds been hanging out, but here, they were chirping and singing and gliding and pecking. Right here. Life in abundance. Hope flying freely around. And with these simple sounds my heart soared.
I was reminded, in that moment, how hand in hand brokenness and hope live. We may think we are so broken that we forget hope is its partner. Yet, in reality, brokenness is the thing that can allow hope to spring forth. I’m not talking about the brokenness that is inflicted on us by injustice or abuse (for, although hope can be present in those moments, these can be times when hope feels far away), but the breaking open that we allow ourselves to enter into to make room for something new. The breaking open that we do as we walk closer to the Divine. The breaking open that we invite when we know it’s time for us to take a step forward in freedom… kind of like stomping the clumps of snow off my boots to allow traction for the next step.
As I walk through this Lenten journey toward that cross of brokenness, I pray that I will continue to clear the stuck stuff in my life, that I will continue to break open to allow new life to be brought in, that I will continue to have the ears to hear new songs coming to life in surprising places.
And I pray this for you too!
The sun was shining this morning, and the skies were blue, so Gibbs and I wrapped up and went out to the woods for a long walk. We mainly walked on a groomed trail (one where the snow has been compacted so you don’t sink in more than an inch or two), but at one point I felt called to leave this trail to walk up to a fallen tree covered in snow. I wanted to pause and reflect on this Ash Wednesday to hear how God might want me to use this season of Lent.* I arrived at the tree and stood there, knee deep in snow, in the peace of the forest, just a gentle breeze rattling a few brown leaves that were stubbornly hanging on branches, and the occasional call of a bird breaking the silence.
In that space I began to hear a word from God. “Limits.” And standing with that thought, God said, “Give up limits.” I freaked out a little hearing this, as I have found boundaries are so important in life, especially as one abused as a child. Without boundaries, without limits, how can I be safe, I asked. But the words repeated themselves, “Give up limits.” I stood there a while more, and then we continued on our walk, all the while pondering what this meant. And with the steps I took, the meaning became clearer.
So often I feel bound by the ways I view who I am in the world. And then bound further still by the ways other people have defined me. I am either not enough or too much. I fall into these boundaries placed on me, and believe them. I reinforce my own limitations, and believe them. But what if I lived without these beliefs? What if I experimented, each time a limiting belief came up, to challenge that belief? What if each time I hear negative self talk, I tell it a new story? What if I allow my belief of God being bigger than any box that people try to fit this Mystery into could apply, just a little, to me too? What if I believed I was more than just barely lovable?
And as the walk continued the words from a chant I have used often came to me, based on this poem by Macrina Wiederkehr:
I will believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is:
I believe in my power
to transform indifference into love.
I believe I have an amazing gift
to keep hope alive in the face of despair.
I believe I have the remarkable skill
of deleting bitterness from my life.
I believe in my budding potential
to live with a nonviolent heart.
I believe in my passion to speak the truth
even when it isn’t popular.
I believe I have the strength of will
to be peace in a world of violence.
I believe in my miraculous capacity
for unconditional love.
I will believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is.
So each day during Lent I have decided to look in the mirror and read this poem out loud. To sing the chant while I work or walk. To allow the limits that I have placed on myself, and ones others have offered me to be challenged…. And maybe even blown apart. To see what is ready to die and what emerges as new life. To experience how to live beyond limiting belief. Or, as I have seen meme’s of…. To see myself as the person my dog sees me as!
Will you join me?
* In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a 40 day season (excluding Sundays) that leads us to Easter. It is common for people to give something up for Lent, or to add a spiritual practice that moves them closer to God.