Gibbs and I went on a long hike through the woods yesterday, a place where we often go. The trails are groomed, meaning the snow is compacted enough to walk on without sinking too deep, and this place is local and almost always empty. As we set off, I decided that today we would not do the little loop that adds about 1/3 of a mile to the trail, as the last couple of times we had done it, there were spots that crossed streams and marshy areas that were not yet frozen over. I wanted a walk without an icy foot washing!
As we walked, we passed the first turn off for the loop, and unsure of where the second turn off joined the path we were on, we kept going straight, which meant we were doing the main trail loop backwards. At first it was fine. But after we crossed the ski trail a couple of times and nothing looked familiar, I began to feel disoriented. Had we somehow got lost? No…. we were still on the groomed trail. Where were we? How much further did we have to go? Had we somehow gone in a circle and were doing the loop again? Nothing looked the same and I struggled to know where we were. So I did what we had to do and just kept walking!
Eventually, of course, we came back to a spot that I recognized, but for a while I was both disoriented and enjoying seeing things that I normally did not see. Walking in the opposite direction gave me a whole new view of trees and creeks and vistas. And I’m embarrassed to say, that this was the first time ever I had walked it in this direction!
How often this is true in our lives. We get in a routine of doing the same things in the same way over and over again. In some cases this helps us…. The routine of how we begin our days gets us out of the house and to school, work or appointments on time! But in what ways does it hinder us? What can stay hidden in our lives if we never turn around, if we always have the same outlook on life?
I feel our world suffers from this… always looking at something from one point of view. At times it feels like we hold so tight to what we think is right that there is no room for expanding our point, especially to the opposite view. And look at the divisions and hate this has caused. How many of you had awkward Thanksgiving tables where some topics were off limits? Or how many felt shut down if they tried to express something that others did not agree with? How can we return to having civil discussions where we listen more than defend, where we open ourselves to truly hear rather than preparing an attack? How can we share stories with one another from our hearts, knowing that we can be heard for the truth of what we are saying? How can we reach across the lines that divide us to come together in unity where all feel valued? Maybe one way is to start by doing something different!
The Sufi poet, Rumi, said,
“Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.”
Maybe it’s not only true about love, but to discover all the places where we have put blinders on, where we have built barriers, where we have become too set in our ways, where we only travel on a set track in one direction.
As you go through your week, I encourage you to do something backwards! Maybe shower in a different order, or walk a trail in an opposite direction, or even eat dessert first! See what happens, what you notice and feel, and what delights you observe that you often miss.
Gibbs and I have been cat sitting recently, staying at a house on a lake. The lake side of the house is all windows, floor to ceiling, and so the view has been stunning. I’ve loved watching the bald eagles soaring and fishing, the trumpeter swans gliding by, the last few stubborn geese flying overhead. But what has caught my attention the most is the water. The weather here has been strange: frigid coldness followed by beautiful days where it’s above freezing. Snow has fallen, snow on snow and shovel has shoveled, shovel on shovel! And with so many grey days, when the sun breaks through the clouds it’s a total delight! The lake water has moved from having waves, to being still and mirror like, from being flowing to being frozen and back again, as it works with nature to move through all these states of being.
As I’ve been observing it I am struck by the way it changes so easily. One night when I went to bed the waves were lapping at the shore, the next morning it was crusted over with ice, broken only where a large bird had landed and swum through, and now the waves are lapping once more.
While I’ve been there, I’ve felt my emotions doing this too. Tears have been close to the surface, as they often are when I am on retreat. Not sad tears or tears with a discernable feeling attached, just tears. And there is no story, no memory or emotion or sensation, other than the tears themselves. For me it’s a sign that the Spirit is close. I’ve let them flow when they have appeared, and stop when they have finished, and I’ve sat in silence listening to see if there is a message behind them.
I remember back to the times when it was so hard to cry or to feel, thinking that if I cried I would never be able to stop, the grief so deep and bottled up, or the anger so filled with rage that it would explode. But doing healing work, in spiritual direction and therapy, I came to realize that this was just not so. The tears could be overwhelming for a while, but they would not last, and the freedom at their release was immense. Likewise, expressions of anger, in a safe place and not directed at anyone, would soon move through. Just as this lake freezes and thaws, the waves lap then still, so our emotions move through us, if we let feel safe enough to let them. They don’t get stuck or continue forever. They just are and then they change.
So the tears flow, and it’s ok. They stop, and it’s ok. The Spirit is there with me, witnessing it all, and it’s more than ok.
Where do you feel safe enough to allow your feelings to be? Who is there with you? Where do they feel stuck or overwhelming? Find a safe person or place (or both!!) and see what happens when you just let your feelings be.
As Gibbs and I were walking the other day, we took a different route… The once frozen ground had thawed, and some rain on top of that made the way muddy, so we broke off from the wood trail and went to the meadow trail. As we continued around, we came to the lake, and Gibbs broke off from the main path to go down a narrow one that leads to the lake edge. As I followed him, my eyes were drawn to the lake. It was 90 percent frozen, with just a small area of open water, and in this enclosure was a gaggle of geese. As we got closer some honked, and pulled themselves out of the water and on to the ice, slipping and sliding around.
Most of the geese had already migrated, so I wondered what these ones were still doing in Minnesota. For weeks we had had the sound of hundreds of geese flying south. Yet these ones had procrastinated and were now confined to this small section of water that remained unfrozen. Why had they not left earlier? What signs had they ignored? How were they suffering now with the cold…. A totally unnecessary suffering caused by their stalling. Sure… it’s a long way south, but how much easier would it have been to go before the weather was so cold!
As I judged them, I laughed… How many times have I procrastinated! It seems a natural thing to do. And sometimes I’ve regretted it, but mostly it works out.
As I walked through my door after our walk, one of my major procrastinating signs was right in front of me: dishes! My sink is small, so one pot can fill it up, but still the sink and the counter and the stovetop can easily become filled to overflowing before I set myself right and just do them. It’s not that I hate doing dishes, I just hate the thought of doing dishes! (Maybe the geese we had seen earlier hate the thought of flying so far to stay warm… how bad can it be to survive a winter after all!!).It makes me wonder how this spills out into other areas of life… not just chores, but things that have a bigger impact. Is there something we are putting off that could make a difference in our lives? Maybe something that will bring us a deeper level of healing, or something God is calling us to. And how is this stopping us from living full lives, or worse, harming us, causing us to be frozen and stuck? And how can we just do the things we need to do…. or at least begin! For in fairness, the geese had started their journey south, maybe not as soon as they could have, but they had gotten over that initial hurdle.
So where are you stuck? Not as far along as you would like to be? Where do you need to begin? And what support do you need to move forward?
It reminds me of the quote by Lao Tzu, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” What is the one step you can take today, or this week, or, even, in this very moment? Ask yourself this question often and soon the miles will fall behind you!
I was blessed to be taken to Maui recently, and was surprised and the contrast between what I thought I would be seeing and experiencing, and what I actually did! Even as we flew in I was taken aback at the barrenness of the land…. I had thought it would be lush and rain foresty, but instead plants were struggling to take hold on the volcanic land, (although we did fine the lush side of the island during our exploring). The island was buzzing with tourists, seemingly segregated from the locals. And the luxury resorts seemed a far cry from the simple homes we saw. Yet the two realities lives side by side, interfacing where necessary and otherwise kind of invisible to the other. So I was even more thankful for Franko, the young man who I have known since he was six years old, who was there with us. For Franko, once a quiet boy, was eager to meet and talk to the locals. We went off some beaten tracks and, at most places we stopped, he sought out someone who looked like they lived on the island to strike up a conversation with. From the shaved ice employees to the reverend selling scuba tours, from the guy by the side of the road selling coconuts to the dog owner at the beach, from the surfers to the self appointed turtle protector, Franko drew the locals out to share about their life on Maui.
These encounters enriched my understanding and appreciation of the island… and it was so fun to see Franko in a new light! The stories we heard were ones of hope…. Of how the turtle population had grown over the last 15 years to a point where they were no longer endangered, but moved to the protected species list…. And of struggles. Ones of dreams being lived out, and of financial hardships being endured.
As I flew home I reflected on how these were the things that had most touched me. The sharing of lives and stories. And, along with some deep spiritual experiences I had, are the things that will stay with me the longest.
It made me sad to think how many people go to places like Maui and don’t take the opportunity to truly experience where they are. Many stay in resorts, hang out in the tourist areas surrounded by other tourists, stay on the beaten tracks, shy away from anyone who looks different and ignore those who are scrambling to make a living selling coconuts! They may think they have experienced the culture by going to a luau, or eating in the trendy places, but what beautiful depth has been missed.
I think our spiritual lives can be like this too. We stay at the surface without digging deep. We see what is apparent and leave it at that without seeing what treasure might lie beneath that. It can be like me saying, “Yes, I went to the top of the volcano to watch the sunrise. It was pretty.” Yet not listening to message in that sunrise that God whispered into my heart. How often do we just say a prayer and not stop to listen for a response, or feel a stirring of the Spirit and move on quickly before She can change us!
I encourage each of us to dig a little deeper…. To go beyond the easy touristy sights and invite the stories behind them, to wait and listen and share and pay attention to the things that are easy to miss as we get swept up with the currents of life. To see beyond the glitz and glamor and find the true treasures.
May it be so!
Recently a friend gave me a new-to-me chair… a recliner her mom no longer needed. I decided to move an old chair I had into what had been the dining room, a room I used more as a craft room. I pushed the table to the corner, put the comfy chair at an angle looking out into my garden, and a rug on the floor, simple but cozy. I have had dreams of turning this room into a sun room, knocking out another window and opening it up more, and decided this was the first step. Each morning since, I’ve sat in the chair, facing out into the garden, the rising sun hitting my face as it travels from behind the lilac bushes across the sky casting long shadows and catching the frost tipped grass and fallen leaves.
Before this, my mornings were spent in the living room, a nice, warm, cozy place. But it is dark and dreary in the mornings before the sun has made its way around the house. Often I needed a lamp on to read.
I’ve been amazed at the difference this simple change of perspective has made in my outlook of the whole day. This turning to face the sun, quietly drinking tea and being in silence, watching the squirrels carry fallen apples across the lawn, the rabbits eating breakfast, the light glistening through the remaining leaves on the trees. I feel a peace wash over me and a thankfulness sink deep within as God and I welcome this new day.
Mary Oliver wrote:
“Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”
As the seasons turn, the weather cooling, the leaves falling (or totally gone!), the frost and snow beginning, I wonder if you are being invited to turn too. Is there a simple change you are being called to make in your life? A turn you are being requested to make? A new perspective you are being invited to try on? A new direction you are being challenged to face? Try it, and see what happens!
The last few weeks have been a little challenging…. I felt out of balance, a little disoriented, somewhat depressed, and trying to figure out what was going on. My sleeping was off, my eating was falling into old habits, it was hard to get up and go, old feelings of unworthiness and unloveability tried to claim a place back in my life, and all in all, I was struggling. It took a while for me to realize that this time of year is often hard for me. The end of September, beginning of October is a time when the darkness seeps in and I can get this way. Almost as soon as I realized this and asked a couple of friends to pray for me, it began to lift, and the lightness and joy and ease began to seep back in again. And while I don’t know what it is about this time of year (I assume some trauma happened when I was young that keeps coming back in a physical, bodily fashion), I am thankful that it is a limited time frame, and pray for those for whom this is not the case.
This week’s scripture reading is the story about the ten lepers who are healed, but only one comes back to thank Jesus. As I sat with this story, a different interpretation came to me. Usually it’s all about the thankfulness of the one, and the lack of gratitude by the nine. But today, whispered into my heart, was a new thought. What if the nine did not realize that they had really been healed? Here was this guy, telling them to go the priest who could confirm their healing and bless them, allowing them to rejoin society. But when you have been disowned for so long, when you have been the unclean one, the scapegoat, the unloved and mocked one, can you trust these words and find the courage to try one more time to be considered a worthy member of society? Maybe, only the one who returned to Jesus, was able to trust and try again. Maybe just this one had a shard of hope left. The other nine simply did not believe healing was even possible. When Jesus told them they had been healed, they were not able to hear it and continued walking, lost and hopeless, ringing their bells of uncleanliness. Scaring the world away.
When I juxtapose this with my recent experience, I see some similarity. While I know healing is possible, and has already taken place in 95% of me, (maybe more!!), there is still that small part of me that cannot believe this could ever happen. Will there even truly be an end to the memories, the flashbacks, the feeling of unworthiness? And if I trust that there will, does it make the reality of when they come harder? If this is the case, it’s better not to believe.
So while 95% (maybe more!!) of me falls to the ground in thanksgiving for the healing, there’s still a fraction that keeps on walking, ringing the bell of uncleanliness, avoiding people who might otherwise love me or call me healed and worthy. That small part which guards itself, waiting for the worst to happen. Are there more memories to uncover? More hurt that will come my way? More abuse that will catch me unaware?
As I continue to work with this small part of me, I wonder how I can help it be more thankful and trusting. Experience has certainly smashed the belief that I am still in danger…. So how can I slowly allow this part to be exposed in ways that will give it the chance to see that life is good, ok, safe. That I am worthy and loved. I get the image of a shy cat, slowly watching and peeking out from a place it can run from. Maybe approaching and trying a quick petting before running away. Maybe chancing playing with a toy in public. Maybe jumping up close to a person before either biting the hand that reaches out or allowing itself to touch the hand. And slowly trusting, mostly, until it chances sitting on a lap for an instance.
I also wonder how I can be more aware next September, how I can help myself be more open and thankful as this time of year sneaks back around, trying to nurture and love the parts that are trapped in the seasonal break. I think there is something in the gratitude piece for me…. Can I throw myself to the ground in gratitude for all the healing that has already happened, rather than walking away ignoring it? Can I sit with the miracles of life, instead of embracing the old scars?
And so I thank God for healing. And trust that this will be enough.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.