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.

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travel: good for your health (and soul)

I came upon an interesting article in the New York Times online, outlining scientific studies on the health benefits of vacations (Vacations Are Good For You, Medically Speaking). Studies indicate those who take vacations are more likely to sleep better and are less likely to die of heart attacks.

While this is nothing new to me, as I have long been a world traveler, it is great to see some research; it’s about time this country recognizes the value of travel, not only as benefit to be healthy human beings, but also as means to understand the world and who we are as global citizens.

Travel also has benefits to the soul, as many generations of faithful in all religions have so profoundly practiced and articulated throughout the ages. Whether one takes sabbath locally, a secluded spiritual retreat, or far off pilgrimage, the impact can revive the soul, help clear the cluttered mind, and is often life-changing.

This is exactly what I going to do very shortly. I have rather cunningly planned a journey that will span from Alaska to St. Paul, MN (as I wrote about previously). This is exactly what I need post my graduate studies—I have faith a job will come, but first I need to rid myself of the clutter that has built up from four years of writing papers, reading stacks of books, and many class discussions.

This journey will pass through some of the most rugged beautiful country in the world and continue through the diverse natural geography of the United States. From glaciers, mountains, and coast in Alaska and the Yukon Territory to NW Washington and through the desert landscape of Eastern Washington, across the continental divide and through the plains of South Dakota, I will journey…to leave behind the inner-city pressure, to clear the mind of theological and academic clutter, to breathe in fresh air, to visit friends, to travel for it’s own sake…

I do not expect to have any revelatory experiences or epiphanies concerning my life, although I am certainly open to the possibility; I do expect to have many stories to share, if I live in the moment. And I expect to be changed in some way, whether small or great. Although I may not have consistent internet access to blog during this trip, I will be writing and photographing the journey. I also hope to organize my thoughts about travel and discernment, perhaps eventually to write more extensively and publish an article about it.

However, having written all that, there is one major concern about travel in our industrialized society. That being the role of travel as source of contributor in carbon emissions. By flying across the country in two flights this summer, I am contributing to the environmental crisis. As a person concerned about the environment and one who aims to live simply, how can I justify this? Well, it’s not so simple, and I’m going to continue to think and reflect on this.

Reflection and Transition

Hatcher Pass Reflection

Some seven years ago, I was soul searching to figure out what to do with my life. Funny, I was only a college sophomore. And here I am now–again soul searching for something yet unseen. This time I’m older and wiser, yet the same questions persist. Back then, my transition was from one major field of study to another and then to a study abroad year in Germany. Now, my long life as student will come to an end shortly, and I approach another important transition in my life with a master’s degree in hand.

The intense discernment of seven years ago involved an e-mail exchange with a trusted mentor. Our correspondence soon fell into the territory of spiritual direction. While this does not substitute for one-on-one meetings, our prior relationship buoyed the connection, and I believe there were moments when we were in sync spiritually. Her questions, well timed, struck me deeply. I took them on walks with me as I explored the wonder of life in a southern German university town. Now, although I have a spiritual director I see, it is also I who ask those questions that stir the souls of those around me.

Back then I didn’t read books on discernment, I didn’t know about the exercises of St. Ignatius, nor did I have Thomas Merton’s writing by my side (though I could have–Merton and Ignatius are timeless companions to the spiritual journey). Fueled by simple words from a mentor, I reached into my own soul and wrestled with the all too familiar question for many of us: What am I supposed to do with my life?

It was in this struggle that my mentor asked me another stirring question. Using the character of Eric Liddell from the film Chariots of Fire, who says, “When I run, I feel the pleasure of God”, she asked me: What do you do that causes you to feel the pleasure of God?

My answers back then are not so different from what they are today. I said I write. I pray. I read scripture. Today, I would add: I feel the pleasure of God through my photography and when I travel.

These are two areas which have developed and grown in me over the years. Somehow I hope to combine these gifts (writing, prayer, travel, faith, and photography) and put them to use…to dream of ways to creatively express how I experience God in this life. I do not know yet what shape these dreams will take, but I am compelled to dream, even when my greater priority is to find stable full-time employment.

This blog is one way to dream, and I believe I already have been through sharing reflections with photos. So here’s another: The above picture was taken on Hatcher Pass, near Palmer, Alaska in August 2007. It is one of my favorites because of the composure–the reflection of building clouds on still shallow waters creates an image of complexity and depth. I gaze into the water and I see my life of transition…smooth and transparent, yet incomplete and not-yet-revealed.

What do you see?

Early Morning Relfections

Driven by restlessness, I arise early.  Alone, with a candle next to me, I write as the sun comes up somewhere unseen.  It was a late night as well; I guess I shall face the day with but five hours of sleep and as many hours of internal reflection and prayer from the previous night.  There’s something deep inside that is both driving me mad and driving me closer to God.  This week I have been particularly reflective about my life–present, future, and past.  It’s swirling around me, and sometimes a little too much.  This morning I am deep into the past, swimming around in the years of college that were tumultuous, amazing, and among the lowest and highest I have been emotionally.

I am writing a paper on discernment, a decision I have made.  Well, there are many…but I chose a particularly intense period of my life to write about.  I am reading through the journals I kept…I wrote a lot then, and I am amazed at how much time and energy I was able to devote to that.  There is enough written to formulate a paper, yet I still want to write.  I still want to go back into my experience and explore (it’s been an amazing journey!).  There’s so much life and pain from this time in my life.  And because I wrote so much I am now able to use it to heal from the present.  Or maybe I’m hiding.  That, too, I suppose.  So somehow I have to leave this internal world of mine and face some things that are bringing discomfort to the present.

Pilgrim on a Journey

Enough of grief for now. Sitting at the dinning room table, I gaze out to the day. It is breezy, and clouds pass overhead, maybe there will be a break for sunshine today. I am writing a paper for Spiritual Discernment class about a decision I have made and how I made it. The idea, of course, is to notice the process of how I decided, what that was like, and where was God present in the midst of the decision process. I’ve decided to write about wrestling with a call to ministry, back in 2001 and 2002.

My life has been a constant series of journeys–roads traveled and roads left behind. Even though I carefully consider options, my intuition guides most of what I do.  And intuition often surprises me, leading me to new paces.

I am but a wandering pilgrim on a journey…

Path Fence

on breaking free from fears

This morning I went on a run with a friend, a nice loop of about 6 or seven miles. It was an interesting run on a not-so-interesting morning blanketed by gray stratus clouds. Back at home, blissfully enjoying the post-run endorphin high, I engaged with my heart. But the bliss soon wore off, leaving a vacancy for something more somber. Something I have noticed lately is a joyful life, with much to be thankful for and bathed in laughter and shared time with good friends. And yet, a great paradox exists as I am deeply lonely; even in the midst of comfortable company, I find a sadness in my soul. I find solace in the music of Evanescence and Linkin Park, whose music and lyrics embody intense emotional wounds that speak to me. So….for me…such joy, such love of life…and such sadness…brokenness. And I’m not the only one.

Furthermore, inside my spirit is fear. In addition to joy and love of life, I have an array of possibilities before me as I prepare to receive my master’s degree. Enter the fear. This is by no means an abnormal fear to have–but looking deeper, I really am afraid: Afraid to leave (Seattle, my friends, my community). Afraid to stay here…fear wants to tell me to run away because it’s easier, I won’t have to deal with the complexities of relationality. And more…

All this was flowing through my head as I sat down to read for my class on spiritual discernment. Ha, what fun…here I am lost in the midst of deep inner feelings, and my homework is right in line, a huge help for both spirit and studies. So here I am…doing what I do, and doing what I help other people do…discerning. Sometimes it’s a bit much and I’m thankful for friends to bring me back to life, back to reality with laughter and shared conversation.

I know I have courage and a strong spirit. Now is the time to summon up that inner strength, the sort of courage only known from experiencing pain and brokenness. It seasons my life, never quite disappearing, yet sometimes remaining beneath the surface of my being. So here I go…I dive into the waters and go with the swift flow of the river in hopes that my courage will carry me through.

And here, when can I reach this place in my spirit, I am free. Although loneliness and fear are present, I am not bound to them and I do not have to hide my brokenness. I can however, break free from their distortions to engage more deeply with life and learn to love more deeply.   As my friend and I ran this morning, we pondered potential names for what I’d name a spiritual direction practice if I had one: I am free to be broken…

God help me to find the courage to face these fears and break free from them!

I am haunted by waters

Columbia River Sunset

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It