update

I have been very busy as of late, and will not be able to post anymore on this blog. The reason for this, however, is very good. Simply put, I’ll be teaching English in Indonesia starting next year, and will be there for 2 years.

The previous post (Discernment on a Ferry) is the day I heard about the opportunity. Then in late July, I had an interview, and was accepted.

I will keep a blog about that experience, and have already started to write about the process here. Hence, in all the preparations, and that specific blog, it is too much to continue posting here. I will keep the blog up, because I see that some of my posts continue to get traffic. I am grateful for this journey, and those who may find peace, joy or whatever through my words and wanderings here.

Peace to all who find this space.

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Discernment on a Ferry

On the ferry

I am currently in the midst of an exciting albeit stressful journey of discernment. My previous posts about travel as a spiritual practice are dancing around my head and I may soon be putting it all into further practice. Though current instability in place as well as sleep disturbances have taken a toll on my writing. These days I have backed away from the more intense sharing, but it seems those soul-bearing posts are what continually attract attention to this blog. However, I also see the value in using this as means to communicate travel/journey as a way of discernment and spiritual practice.

Not yet ready for a big reveal on what I’m doing, I can share this photo and say that even when I cannot travel far away to experience change of scenery and welcome dis-orientation, I am blessed to reside, for the time being, in Seattle, where I can get on a boat and travel across water to another city.

This photo was taken on a ferry between Seattle and Bainbridge Island. I walked the observation deck, to and fro, taking in the magnificent scenery of water and mountains, thinking about the months ahead and decisions before me.

Travel as a Spiritual Practice

Somewhere over British ColumbiaTravel is one of my core spiritual practices. Growing up, my parents took my sister and I on at least one vacation a year. It was the 3-week family sojourn to visit friends in New Zealand when I was 8, that left an impression with me great enough to stir a desire to experience more of this world. This desire continually pesters me, calling me out of the norm and into unknown and adventure.

This spiritual practice is distinct from pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a well-known form of soul-searching—a long journey to a significant landmark, shrine, or destination. The traveling spiritual practice that formed in me may well include pilgrimage, albeit they are not one in the same. For example, a pilgrimage of a devout believer bears a holy purpose and spiritual expectations such as the Hajj or walking the El Camino de Santiago. One who practices their spirituality through travel, on the other hand, may not be in any place of particular religious importance nor necessarily seek an audience with the divine.

IMG_2730.JPGFor me this means travel for travel’s sake, seeing the world in an attempt to learn about cultures, grow, and change. Sometimes that is through seeing landscapes from the air or car; sometimes that is lived through conversations with strangers or visiting museums or other places of interest. God or things spiritual may or may not be in my mind or on my lips, and yet the experience as a whole feeds a spiritual hunger.

What sets this apart? People regularly take vacations or travel across country to get from one place to another. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When I plan a vacation, I make sure I experience life and enjoy myself as much as possible. Why spend all my time going to a place because it is “the tourist thing to do” but not what I like? Cruise ships are not my cup of tea, but I have spent a few nights on the solarium deck of a ferry floating through the Inside Passage in Alaska. Twice, I have arranged a layover in Amsterdam long enough for me to hop on the train  and walk around town.  I delight in sunrises and sunsets wherever I am.

In my studies in spirituality I came across a definition for contemplation that has stuck with me: a long loving look at the real. Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt’s essay describes this definition:

The real, reality, is not reducible to some far-off, abstract, intangible God-in-the-sky. Reality is living, pulsing people; reality is fire and ice; reality is the sun setting over the Swiss Alps, a gentle doe streaking through the forest; reality is a ruddy glass of Burgundy, Beethoven’s Mass in D, a child lapping a chocolate ice-cream cone; reality is a striding woman with wind-blown hair; reality is the risen Christ.

These are, of course, things that in his time, his Western culture and his way that are striking.  All true, indeed—now imagine the thoughts, lives, and real contemplations of the near 7 billion people on this planet. This drives my desire to travel and experience the world.

Above all, appreciate the journey and live in the moment; see the world and take a long loving look at the real around you.
alaska panorama

More on changing faith

To continue my thoughts on ‘changing faith’: this reflection was initially a letter, written in early 2008 to someone who asked why I stayed at Church of the Apostles. I have since added and revised to reflect my current thoughts, not changing the main premise: I stay because of community.

I was raised Lutheran and felt quite comfortable in the Lutheran denomination and theology. Fresh in Seattle in Sept. 2004, it was my first time alone, outside of college, with the responsibility to find a church community. I found a progressive Lutheran church that I attended for awhile. There was however, something missing from this experience. Friendly for worship, I hungered for deeper connections with my church community. This might surprise you, but they were, in a way, too liberal. And by that, I mean no negativity at all, rather I was worshiping with folk whose theological issues left me a bit out of the loop. I’d consider myself liberal, but I approached church differently. Their issues were about not using “he” for God, which wasn’t an issue for me.  Sure, it excited me to explore varying names and expressions for God and be a part of a thriving social justice ministry, but the worship life, although musical and liturgical, seemed stagnant. This isn’t due to lack of variety, there was a hunger for community.
Continue reading “More on changing faith”

An Awakening: How I Found Myself in Tübingen

I wrote the following on ‘changing faith’ four years ago, reflecting on the year I studied at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, in southwestern Germany. A piece of this was published in the May 2006 issue of The Lutheran, a magazine publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the full text appeared online and I moderated a forum discussion about changing faith). Another post reflecting about what has changed since 2006 and where my faith life is presently will be posted here sometime soon. Until then, enjoy this piece…

An Awakening: How I Found Myself in Tübingen

14 October 2001
I picked up a leaf and started walking. I noticed the leaves as they fell, how some fell straight down to the ground, others fell on top of branches and bushes, and yet still more floated gracefully and gently to the earth. Every leaf that fell to the ground covered the ground and would someday become a part of the earth. This is a cycle, this is a season. My life has changed seasons…

It was a beautiful autumn day when I wrote the leaf meditation–almost two months after I had moved to Tübingen, Germany. Indeed, the entire 11-month journey was a seasonal change in my young adult life and defies any simple description. I could fill pages with stories of travel, study, and culture—but often untold is how Tübingen changed my faith.

As an undergraduate, my dream to study meteorology ended with a failure in calculus. Overwhelmed and depressed, I abandoned meteorology for German and applied to study in Tübingen the following year (2001-2002). With the guidance of a mentor, I began the process of discerning what, if not meteorology, was my vocational calling.

In Tübingen, I attended classes in German and imbibed on local culture. I wrote to family and friends about travel adventures, German culture, and living through September 11 in Germany. Untold, however, are the stories of spiritual soul-searching.

Every day began with several Psalms. Centering myself with breath prayer, I meditated on Scripture and wrote my deepest thoughts in journals. My worship life flourished not inside, but rather outside church walls. I prayerfully walked along the Neckar river and through the forest. The physical act of running became prayer as I visualized Jesus running with me.

This intimate relationship with God (and with myself) nurtured my soul, and cultivated an intense discernment process where I wrestled with a call into ministry. My life had more in common with the mystics than I am often willing to acknowledge. It was truly an awakening.

Reflecting back, I don’t think I would have been as open to deep soul-searching had I not painfully struggled with calculus. Neither would I have had such an intense faith journey without someone to mentor me through.

This journey–now four years ago–lives in me, ever guiding and sustaining my spirit. It has helped me be a light for others as I have engaged in more public forms of faith sharing and ministry. Now a city-dweller in Seattle, my faith is changing again. And I look forward to what this second seasonal change will bring.

Viriditas

I find it difficult to think about Costa Rica when my daily tasks overflow and the biggest of tasks is to find a job.  Many applications and one interview later, I have nothing. Nada.  Not yet.  The day with its accomplishments and wastes of time sets behind me.  Although I waste some time, I proudly commit most of the time to being in the present.  But during the dark nights like this one I lay in bed, not sleeping as my body would like, rather I sit awake with uncertainties pumping the heart faster and faster.  So no, I haven’t thought about Costa Rica lately.  And indeed I feel guilty about it.

What an amazing adventure and even more than adventure, what a journey in community.  The journey is a gift waiting to be shared, but I have yet to unlock that door holding the memories captive.  By the time I do, I think most of my interested family and friends will have moved on to other news.  The words on this blog long-forgotten by those I know and left to the occasional stumbler from the land of the internets.  I know by browsing my statistics most visits are based on word searches, more specifically relating to a poem I posted well over a year ago.  Still hungering for Sufi mystic Hafiz, they come.

In the moment, my life is enriched by the greening of Seattle.  OK, it’s always green here. But Springtime cues the greenest season of them all.  So today, even as I felt sad and stressed, I stopped to give thanks for the rain and the new life springing from everywhere.  I am job-less, word-less, but not life-less.

Hildegard of Bingen, a medieval mystic and one of my heroes, used the latin “Viriditas” (greeness) as imagery for the Divine.  Here is a piece of one of her beautiful chants, with one of my recent photos of the awakening of Spring in Seattle (translated from Latin…not by me):

O viridissima virga, ave

Hail, O greenest branch,
who in the blowing gust
of the saints’ quest have come forth
when the time came
that you were in bloom along our boughs,
hail, hail to you!
for the sun’s heat sweated in you
like the fragrance of balsam.

For a fair flower was flowering in you,
which gave its scent
to all the herbs
that were dry

And these then all appeared,
full in greenness.

IMG_1644

Thoughts Upon Arrival

Under the cover of darkness, I arrived in San José late on January 1, 2010.   Tired and disoriented from a few hours of in-flight sleep my heart and mind were also racing.  Once I cleared customs and claimed my luggage, I experienced a surreal moment walking to the door.  As young college students bound for an adventure tour passed me, men stood with signs looking for their tourist visitors.  The scene gave me a moments pause.

I had little idea what to expect of the entire month that lay before me, and indeed the new year as well.  Perhaps it was providential that stress kept me from dreaming up expectations about what my life would be in Costa Rica. However, I knew I wasn’t a tourist, so as I stood waiting for my deaconess sister, I had to ask…am I ready for this?  There’s no going back.  Yes, I’m ready, I thought.

Winding through the dark streets of  San José, I tried to get my bearings, which proved to be useless.  So I just observed.  As we turned onto the dirt road toward the shantytown that would be my home, I prayed to live in the moment.  Happy New Year.  From that moment on, I was free of the burdens of 2009 and free to re-claim an identity that had been lost in the depression—an identity of being a compassionate listener, spiritual director, and deaconess.

It was difficult to arrive so late at night, because I was not able to see my surroundings.  The houses in this small barrio are constructed of mostly scrap metal.  I lay in bed that night listening to the noise of traffic and dogs barking.  Bookshelves and a hanging bedsheet blocked off my private space.  However, the other side of the room was open to the air.  I lay there disoriented, yet thankful for a bed and the roof over my head, ready to sleep off a long day and begin a new life with a new community.

Below is the picture I took on my first morning in Costa Rica.  It looks out to the rest of the barrio and the mountains above San José; behind me are the bookshelves and my space.

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