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

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Writing over Anger with Love

This poem reflects something I need to give and receive in my life now…something I’ve lost beneath blinding rage. It isn’t pretty and I need to release it and grasp on tightly to the love of God.  The poem is a critique of church rules and right ways of doing things. However, the silly lies of anger are written on my walls.  I’ve been here before, recently even.  Something clicked tonight at church, and I breathed in the life-giving breath of God.  I hope love is written on my heart, and that this time it lasts—that God’s graffiti will paint over the anger permanently—I don’t want to sink back into that angry place.

heart

God’s Graffiti

We’ve splashed our rules
all over the sanctuary walls…
so many rules we don’t have time
for dancing…
our graffiti
defiling the house of God.
God’s graffiti is different:
God writes LOVE
upon our hearts.
Some night, let’s sneak in the sanctuary
and paint over the rules
and write God’s graffiti
all over the walls…
LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE

— Ann Weems

Am Neckar: The River as Soul’s Companion

As I have recently found a spirit guide in the Great Blue Heron (see previous entry), water has long been an elemental spiritual presence for me.  Waters are symbolic of baptism, of cleansing and renewal.  I have been a long time away from water, too.  The following is a meditation I wrote while living in Germany back in February of 2002.  I would walk along the banks of the Neckar River in Tuebingen.  The water became a place of comfort, a friend to me at a time when I was walking a lonely path with many questions on my heart…

Neckar River

O still river, how long it ha been since I have seen your waters gently flow by.  How good it feels to sit here next to you, observing your nature.  The long days have made me weary and you are at present my only friend.  You understand me and speak to me in ways that others cannot.  I see my true self through the reflection from your waters.  You sustain me, you guide me and you give me life.  And today, when the life has been sucked away from me, I come to you to be renewed.  I come to sit at your banks and wash away the dirt from my face.  As still as you are right now, I feel the power within your soul; I feel the power within my soul.  And when our time together comes to an end, I take with me the images I see before me, so I can return to them in my dreams.  Forever you will flow, forever you will be and forever I will be in you.  O River of Life, I fall on my knees…I remember my baptism in your waters and I ask forgiveness.  I leave your presence, a Child of God, renewed and cleansed.  I look forward to the next time we shall meet.  It may be here or in another place far off, but your waters are eternal and will never change.

My Friend and Guide, the Heron

Tonight I became convinced that the Great Blue Heron is my animal spirit guide.  I have seen the Blue Heron many times this year, and each time has been a spiritual encounter.  I saw one at Discovery Park and multiple times at the Ballard Locks.  I haven’t been to those places lately, and I miss the walks I used to take.  Lucky me that Herons inhabit near my home.  The following is my winter encounter with the Blue Heron, and has awakened my spirit to her guidance of me…

Heron

Tonight I met a friend—or should I say, tonight a friend met me.  Her sudden appearance was a welcome sight along a dark road on a cold night.   Head bowed, body tense, I walked along a path next to the canal, lost inside my wandering mind.  With a deep breath of chilly December air, I looked up and saw the silhouette of her body atop a rock against the lights across the canal.   Silently and still, she stood, as if she, too, were in contemplation.  My feet stopped and body paused.  I called out to her.  “Oh friend!  I see you.  Where have you been?”  And I realized that I too, have been absent from these waters where we used to meet.  I called out again, “Oh me!  Where have I been?  Too long has it been since I saw you last.  Let us stand here and know each other.”  I stood there, breathless, recalling past encounters with my friend, the Heron.   Each time she stood in water, off at a distance, but the essence of her presence near to me.  Each encounter was mostly silent, though rich with meaning.  When it was time for me to go, I said goodbye and strode down the path.   Oh Blue Heron, watcher over my life, protect me and guide me through this cold winter night!

‘Tween the Dark Night and Depression

What is the difference between depression and “dark night of the soul”?

I could post academically minded words about St. John of the Cross (a Carmelite mystic of the 16th century) and his writing, “Dark Night of the Soul” and compare/contrast that with a clinical definition of depression, but that would not suffice.  No, I dare to share the imagery from my own mind as means to express the spiritual dimensions of depression and the dark night of the soul.  I have experienced both.

This is a blog of a spiritual director, a wandering woman in search of self and home.  Then so be it that deeper spaces be publicly explored.  Besides, St. John of the Cross’ feast day is soon: December 14th.  Happy feast of St. John of the Cross…

You see, for me, December—even amidst all the beauty it beholds in wintertime festivities, the contemplative nature of Advent, and the tradition of Christmas time—sometimes brings with it transition, dark days, and depression.  Three times in my life has it been so intense that I have written the visions that have come through meditation, prayer, and during my waking hours.

Continue reading “‘Tween the Dark Night and Depression”

Mist and Shadow

If I were to put an image to my life in this moment, it would be a misty mountain scene.  This photo was taken in British Columbia this summer.  After the ferry ride from Skagway, AK we docked in Prince Rupert, BC and began the long drive down to Seattle.  What cannot be seen, are the beautiful peaks of mountains, hidden behind the mist.  They are there, and what a sight to behold when they are not shrouded by clouds!  This too, is a sight to behold in its mystery of dark and light.

Misty Mountain

Yesterday, Resurrection seemed an empty word.  I know this is not true, but a mind sunk beneath shadows senses not what good may be out there.  It is instead lost and fixated on gloomy predictions forecast under pessimistic conditions held tightly by a clouded and cluttered mind.  Unseen joy is shrouded by some part of me that would rather shiver in the rain without a coat, and slowly sulk through puddles than to stretch my arms out and breathe in the cool air.  Why is this so?  What part of me has the warped desire to remain in sad shadows and depressed depths?

Today I have experienced joy, though with night-time, anxiety and fear return as the knots tighten around my throat.  The times when I am joyful seem fleeting these days.  Again, I know what gives me joy and that there is much to rejoice about now.  On occasion, I am drawn out of the muck and dreariness into sun-splashed daylight.  I recognize the journey to be lived is marked with perils, uncertainty, loss, joy, love, hope…

I imagine myself walking through the mist and shadows.  And I can imagine this being a time of renewal.  The mist wets my face as I walk on wet earth.  This is a time for exploration, adventure (oh, there is adventure ahead of me.  Where have I been, that I have forgotten!).  The fog that surrounds is mysterious and mystical.  Now is the time to be filled with wonder and let go of anxious thoughts and the desire to forget all that is good.  Let it go. Let it go.

I am reminded of a song from J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  The words were written by Bilbo and sung early in the journey of Frodo with the ring.  Walking on a path after dusk, the hobbits sang to lift their spirits.  The song appears in the movie, though much abbreviated, and that is what I quote now:

Home is behind, the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night
until the stars are all alight.
Mist and shadow, cloud and shade
all shall fade, all shall fade.

Mist and shadow, indeed.  May my wandering in the mist be transforming, and may the shadows not overcome me.  There is still hope left to find, there is reason to sing.  God is bigger than my hurts and the hurts I cause to others.  God is bigger than darkness, for light shines in the darkness.

I am on a journey through mist and shadow.  And I shall see the goodness and glory of what lies beyond the shadows.  I am on a journey…

Why Do I Write?

I recognize the ebb and flow of life will bring times of inspiration when words flow freely, as well as a duration of silence or desolation.  This is a time when I can write.  It should be known, then, that the entries previous about love and loss are rooted many years beyond the time I have lived in Seattle.

Seven years ago I lived in Germany, and in wrestling with a call into ministry, I unintentionally developed a way of life like one of the mystics…daily prayer, constant thoughts on God, although I studied, spoke German, and drank much beer.  And even when I exhibited my share of fear, loneliness, selfishness, and fought with my friends, I lived for solitude and union with God.  As it was then, writing is something which sustains me.  Thus, through my denial, questioning, and soul-searching, I became what I thought I could not be.  Looking back now, that may have been a joyful if not comical unfolding for my mentor.

The title of this journal bears the mark of great transformation while in Germany.  As I wrote in my first entry,

“I chose the title “Wanderlust” after some consideration, although I may change it (decisions, decisions!). Wanderlust is borrowed from German, and for us English-speakers, means a yearning to travel or wander. While wanderlust is formed of two German words (wandern: to wander, and lust: desire), the word isn’t used as much in the German language. In German, this yearning within me might better be translated as, heimweh, or homesickness. My hope is to share the inspirations, longings, and homesickness for God through the eyes of a postmodern spiritual director and servant-minister.”

There are an infinite number of blogs whose authors espouse philosophy, personal drama, travel adventures, political commentary, and/or the mundane details of a given day—this one, however, has become more about soul-work.  There are enough bloggers who write intelligent things about the emerging church, I think it best to stay in the realm of the spiritual.  Maybe when I return to spiritually directing people, I can explore more about what spiritual direction means and what it is like.

I see though my stats that most hits to this blog occur through search engines, mostly to search of loneliness. Without knowing whether these words I write are read, I still am drawn to write out of my joy, loneliness, brokenness, and love even if only one person found solace.  I have written in journals long enough to know that words on a page often lead to wholeness in my dealings in the world around me.

Therefore, I continue…