This is an intermission between the written record of my Costa Rican journey to bring you this photo from earlier this morning. I awoke promptly at 7:00am for no reason other than the light emitting through my window. A quick glance through the curtain revealed a mystical world shrouded in white and gray. Another foggy morning in Seattle. This time, I saw the beauty and gasped in wonder rather than moaning in displeasure. Having little else to do, I grabbed my camera, put on some shoes and bound out the door into the foggy morning. Quietly passing dark houses, I walked down a tree-lined trail to Lake Washington. Still as I have ever seen it, the large lake was reduced to a matter of the short distance I could see ahead before all faded to gray. It is February, yet even with this blanket of clouds and stream of wet dreary days, there are signs of life. I climbed back up the hill and home, thankful that cherry trees are blossoming, daffodils are rising, and the fog gently rolls in and out, reminding me that for the climate here in the north, new life leads winter into spring.
I was first introduced to Annie Dillard’s work in a high school english class on creative writing. We were assigned to pick an author, read multiple books by that author and assemble a report on said author’s life and work. Dillard was suggested to me by my teacher; at the time, I had no previous knowledge of her work.
I was mystified from the very beginning of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Seemingly in one breath she describes intricate details about the minute life of insects, the vastness of the solar system, and ties it to the Divine. When I read her writing, even though I do not share her passion for stalking insects, I feel akin to her.
For example, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she writes: “I have often noticed that these things, which obsess me, neither bother nor impress other people even slightly. I am horribly apt to approach some innocent at a gathering and, like the ancient mariner, fix him with a wild, glitt’ring eye and say, ‘Do you know that in the head of the caterpillar of the ordinary goat moth there are two hundred twenty-eight separate muscles?’ The poor wretch flees. I am not making chatter; I meant to change his life. I seem to posses an organ that others lack, a sort of trivia machine.”
I, too, spit out random facts, that sometimes are timely, and other times quite random and more than the other person really wanted to know. It’s a quirk, and I absorb knowledge of all sorts, that for some reason or another are stored away until something in the present triggers the memory.
A page later in that same chapter (“Intricacy”), she writes:
The creation is not a study, a roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine. Along with intricacy, there is another aspect of creation that has impressed me in the course of my wanderings. Look again at the horsehair worm, a yard long and thin as a thread, whipping through the duck pond…look at the fruit of an Osage orange tree, big as grapefruit, green convoluted as any human brain…Look, in short, at practically anything—the coot’s feet, the mantis’s face, a banana, the human ear—and see that not only did the creator create everything but that he is apt to create anything. He’ll stop at nothing.
Here is a woman, living in the present and extremely fascinated and in touch with the earth around her. The winter solstice has now come, and in the great Northwestern United States it is a cold and dark season. I contemplate an intricate world teeming with life and infinite possibilities…even to be found in this winter time.
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…
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!
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! (Psalm 130:1,2)
I wish I could write some sort of reflection on lent, but my spirit has been drained these past few weeks. Winter has gripped my soul and I am still passing in the dark night, out of the depths. Perhaps this lent will help me transition from this place of bareness to new life. One of my lenten practices has already fell flat in this numbness–morning prayer. In fact, lately, I have been praying less and less. Other things have preoccupied my mind and body, so much that it consumes me, physically and emotionally. Past wounds are surfacing and I have come face-to-face with them. This is a time of processing, purging, and letting out long-trapped emotions.
My previous entry alludes to my purging–a confusing time in my life when I lost two of my best friends. Well, actually I did not lose them, I was thrust into a maelstrom of a fight during which my friendship with both of them together and as individuals was ripped apart. Perceptive and self-aware, I recognized those memories and old feelings surfacing before they became twisted in the present. Now my journey in lent is colored by this edgy angst and sorrow for what happened. Caught in the need to express current emotions about past events and current emotions about current events (of all sorts)–not to mention reading about the spirituality in depression and grief for school–I am intensely wandering through an array of emotions. As a spiritual director, I believe this is healthy for me to do, to understand myself and my own emotions it is easier to accompany others in their own stuff.
And, as I have with previous entries, I turn to poetry and Scripture. This one from the Celtic Daily Prayer Book from the Northumbria Community (pg. 227):
This night and every night
seems infinite with questions,
and sleep as elusive
Pain and longing are always present,
dulled only a little
by the distractions of the day.
I am weary; I am angry.
I am confused.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep despair and disillusion without.
Bring a glimmer of hope within.
Circle me, Lord;
keep nightmare without.
Bring moments of rest within.
Circle me, Lord;
keep bitterness without.
Bring an occasional sense
of Your presence within.
“In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Albert Camus
Barely past 5pm these days and already darkness falls here in Seattle. The winter darkness can be cold and lonely. I am reminded of the suffering of humanity, those who suffer depression, and the wounds of my own past. Yet also the winter can be a time for quiet contemplation and inner light. I’ve been thinking about this recently as I search for my own inner light amid a dark night of the soul. For me, some places in my journey have been dark, and at times terrifying. It is my faith that has sustained me; God is my light in dark times. In those times of darkness and winter, I did, as Camus said, find an invincible summer.
Today I found myself drawn to Psalm 13. It’s a lament that wonders, “how long?” How long must this sorrow in my heart continue? At the end, however, the writer sings to the LORD. I asked God this morning how long…how long must I hold this sorrow within? I doubt there will be an answer. What else is there to do but continue to walk the journey of life with hope for healing.Thomas R. Kelley in his book, A Testament of Devotion, writes,
“Meister Eckhart wrote, ‘As thou art in church or cell, that same frame of mind carry out into the world, into its turmoil and its fitfulness.’ Deep witin us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice to which we may continuousy return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with imitations of an astounding destiny, calling home into Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life.
Many times I have had to return to this inner sanctuary of the soul for healing. This light within has healed me and as a spiritual director I can walk with others in the healing process. This night I pray with a song, written by Sue Wallace in England (and arranged on a new CD from my church community, details forthcoming). It speaks to the healing within myself and what can happen in others:
Light within my darkness
Hope within my pain,
Truth within confusion
Let me live again.
Set me free,
O my Jesus
O my Jesus
warmth within my coldness
joy within my tears
peace within my anger
courage in my fear
set me free,
oh my Jesus
oh my Jesus