Sunday, 1 January 2017
After all these years of practice, you’d think I’d be good at this. Equipped with a pen and a journal, a comfortable chair, some candles, Celtic music playing softly in the background, I’d spend several hours meditating, praying, thinking, evaluating. And at the end of my retreat, I would emerge from my studio with a beatific smile on my face, serene and enlightened, loving and patient and kind ... a better person, in other words.
The reality is that I am not a very good retreatant. Restless at heart, I often can’t seem to get into the zone – the quiet, meditative posture that allows you to access your own deeper, truer self, where you are open to new insights and revelations. All these things seem to happen to other people in retreat settings, but not so much to me. I’m usually itching to get out of that chair at the 15 minute mark. Nothing’s happening, I tell myself. Move on, move on, there’s other stuff you can do.
This is what happened a few months ago when I went on retreat. The setting was gorgeous: a home on the ocean, beauty inside and out.
I was looking forward to three days of bliss. So I packed big time for the journey: all the things I thought I just might need to make this a valuable time. A journal and books, of course, but also my current quilting challenge, the materials I might want to use to create an art piece based on the theme of “Journey.” Making art, after all, is a spiritual practice for me. I had in my mind what this art piece would look like: a picture of my first home, where I began my life’s journey. I was orchestrating this retreat so that it would yield big results.
But by the end of the second day, I had no serene, beatific smile, just a heart full of frustration. Nothing was going the way it should. I packed away my supplies in disgust.
But then again, maybe everything WAS happening the way it should. Sometimes revelations and insights happen not when you prepare yourself for them in lovely retreat settings, but when you, in distress, say, “I give up!” This too is a way of retreating: going backwards to gather strength so you can go forward.
In distress, I abandoned my artistic plans, took a long walk, pondered and listened, and gained access to that deeper, truer self beyond the ego, the self which was truly open. When I got home a few days later, I went into the studio and in a matter of hours created this:
This little person is stepping into an unknown future, as are we all. No backpack of supplies will take care of all the things that might happen. What lies ahead? Will it be good or hard to bear? Where is the trail to follow?
What lies beyond the woods? What storms might pass, and what light is there to give guidance? Are there companions on the way?
So many questions, so few sure answers. And yet, the child steps forward in anticipation, mixed with a little anxiety, perhaps ... as must we all. The journey is a gift we’ve been given, a very precious gift that we are privileged to walk every day that we are here on earth.
As I look back at my journey through 2016, I see times of great happiness. You’ve shared in that journey if you’ve been reading my blogs. When I take the time to count my blessings, they roll out in a never-ending stream, it seems. Counting your blessings puts you in a mood to clap your hands and sing and dance.
But there have been many tough times, too, in the journey that was 2016. I haven’t shared all those times, but some of them. The latest instance happened just the week before Christmas, when a grandchild we were joyfully expecting was stillborn at 6 months. Little Farrah Hope, beautifully formed, 2 pounds: we will never hold her in our arms, watch her grow and rejoice in her gifts. Her parents are bereft, speechless, and we suffer along with them. In times like this, our laughter turns to sackcloth and ashes, our eyes are filled with tears, not joy.
This journey, this gift, that we call life is such a mixture of joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, sobs and smiles. I have leaky eyes and a lump in my throat even as I laugh and play with friends and family. We can’t pack everything we need to prepare for the waves of agony and the waves of bliss that catch us broadside. That’s how the journey was in 2016, and how it will be in 2017, too.
But if there’s anything my retreat this morning has done, it has reminded me to trust that there will be help on the way as we walk this journey. Although I must walk my own journey, I do not walk alone. I am walking into 2017 with my hands stretched out to family, friends, and community, who have been there for me in the past, and I trust will be there for me in the future. I hold out my hands and my heart, as well, to support and encircle family, friends and community in their times of need. We do not walk alone.
And I open my arms and my heart to my Creator who I trust is walking beside me, laughing and crying with me on the journey. Thank God, we do not walk alone.