Pilgrimage of Desire: An interview with author Alison Gresik

Pilgrimage-Cover-©MFarinellaDesignA few nights ago, I was reading in bed when my husband turned to me and said “It must be a good book. You haven’t taken your nose out of it all evening.” He was right – it IS a good book. It’s called Pilgrimage of Desire: An Explorer’s Journey Through the Labyrinths of Life by Alison Gresik. Reading it was like getting cozy in front of the fire with a glass of wine and an old friend who knows your thoughts before you even speak them. Let’s just say Alison and I have a LOT in common.

I was delighted when Alison got in touch with me (because she saw the parallels between her book and The Spiral Path). We arranged a Skype chat and then decided to interview each other on our blogs. I love her answers to my questions, because even though we think alike and both gravitate toward labyrinths and the Feminine Divine, we both bring something fresh to the narrative that helps us see things in new ways.

 

1. Tell me about your discovery of the labyrinth and how it helped you reframe your life’s journey.

My first memorable experience with the labyrinth was at a women’s retreat just before I turned 30. I was feeling quite anxious, depressed, and alone — I had been reading some feminist spirituality, Sue Monk Kidd and Carol Christ, and I felt like my image of God had been pulled out from under me.

We walked the labyrinth outside, as the evening was moving toward dusk. I had written down an intention to carry with me to the centre — I wanted God to give me a new name for herself, one that captured her feminine aspect but that also connected to the God of my youth. I was quite fearful that nothing would happen, but I actually had a powerful experience of meeting the Divine there, and receiving a name to call her: Amma.

The ritual around the labyrinth — the pattern marked on the grass, the lanterns, the women walking with me and holding the space outside — provided a strong and visible support for the encounter I had. Actually, I was so freaked out by how powerful the labyrinth experience was that it was a long time before I walked one again — I certainly didn’t make it a habit early on!

I didn’t come to see the labyrinth as a way of understanding my life’s journey until I wrote my memoir. Our year of travel had come to an early unexpected end, and we had settled in Vancouver, BC, where my husband took a job. And I was having a terrible time getting my bearings. It was one of the first major life decisions we’d made without months and years of preparation and choice, and even though it was a good place to be, I felt lost.

I had made several aborted attempts to walk labyrinths when we were in Europe during our year of travel, but something always kept going wrong. And finally, after a year in Vancouver, I was able to walk the Labyrinth of Light on Winter Solstice, which gave me a chance to say goodbye to everything that I’d left behind, to leave a totem of my grief in the centre (actually a lot of snot and tears on my sweater sleeve), and to emerge into this new phase of my life with a lightened heart.

Writing about the last ten years helped me see and make sense of the recurring patterns, the reversals and progress. The geometry of the labyrinth comforted and bolstered me in very tangible ways – physically and metaphorically.

2. Your book is called Pilgrimage of Desire: An Explorer’s Journey Through the Labyrinths of Life (which sounds a LOT like something I’d write, by the way). Can you tell me about the relationship between labyrinth journeys and desire? What does the labyrinth teach us about desire?

alison gresik-author-photoI think that desire is what moves us through the labyrinth. There must be something that compels us, draws us forward or pushes us on, and I believe that is desire, a deep urge to go from one place to another. If we don’t want something — if our heart doesn’t want to beat, if our lungs don’t want air — then we’re not alive. And the labyrinth channels and directs that movement, that desire, in its mysterious unfolding path.

Just today I was reading a quotation from Goethe that says, “Desire is the presentiment of our inner abilities, and the forerunner of our ultimate accomplishments.” In other words, desire is our drive to unfold to our full potential. So while the object of our desire might take the shape of something material — a career, a lover, a child, a creative work, a travel destination — underneath it’s a desire to become what we can become.

And the labyrinth helps us trust and follow that desire. It holds our faith and helps us feel safe in a process that can be terrifying.

3. In the book, you mention the concept of “containers of meaning” (correct me if I got the term wrong). I haven’t heard that term before and it intrigues me. It seems to me that both you and I see the labyrinth as a “container of meaning” in our lives. First, explain the term, and then talk about how the labyrinth serves as a container of meaning.

“Meaning container” is a term I learned from Eric Maisel, and essentially it’s anything — an activity, a relationship, a project — that we designate to hold meaning for us. What we do and what we have assume greater significance because they are poured into a meaning container, captured and gathering weight rather than draining away.

I love the labyrinth as a meaning container, because it’s not a static bucket — it’s got flow and change. The labyrinth’s cycles can embrace the meaning of one hour, one day, and an entire life. So for me, the labyrinth holds the significance of that first walk and my connection with Amma, and now it holds my memoir and the story of living and writing it, and it also holds the whole history and symbolism of the feminine. The labyrinth shows me synchronicity — like you and I discovering each other! It’s like a code that communicates volumes in a single image. I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what the labyrinth can mean to me.

4. One of the other things you and I have in common is an evolving relationship with the Divine, starting with the traditional Christian view we were raised with and emerging into something different. How did your journey to the feminine Divine change your faith?

In practice, maybe not too much. I still attend an Anglican church, I sing in the choir, and I talk to God in my journal and in my head. I love being part of a community with traditions that celebrate the seasons of the year.

What did change was the tenor of my relationship with God, when she revealed herself as Amma. Leaving behind the judgmental image of a patriarchal God and identifying with Amma as female and as a mother helped me know myself as loved in a way that I hadn’t before. I never felt the need to please Amma, I just knew she thought I was perfect and wanted the best for me. And of course it wasn’t God who changed, just my perception of her. I was able to let her in and be vulnerable with her.

I found this passage in my journal from just before meeting Amma: “I have a fear of exploring being a woman, that I don’t deserve to. That I might be a usurper. Why should I get to enjoy the healing that feminism can provide, if I haven’t been wounded by the patriarchy? Or am I afraid that if I look to closely, I will find those wounds? And even if I find them, wouldn’t other women laugh at them and say, that’s not nearly as bad as what I’ve been through. Those feelings of undeservedness and fear tell me that there’s definitely something up with this feminism thing for me. To think that I’m undeserving of it means I think it’s a good thing. To fear it means that I see it as powerful and life-changing. So those are reasons to keep an open mind, keep reading, and look for the Goddess.”

So coming to Amma was an initiation into the tribe of women that I’d never seen myself as a part of, and that encounter made me care a lot more about the ways gender affects our lives as humans.

5. In the book, you share a very personal account of the complexity of your relationship with your mom and your own experience of the “mother wound” (something that I was wrestling with as I watched my own mom die). Tell me about the experience of writing that so honestly and then taking the courageous step to share it with the world (including your family).

I knew from the beginning that my relationship with my mother was a very important part of the story I wanted to tell about claiming my right to be a writer. And I gave myself permission in the beginning to put everything I wanted to in the book and then sort out all the details later. I had the confidence to do this because I had a wonderful editor (Brenda Leifso) who I really trusted to help me walk the line between what served the story and what was just petty and unkind.

But honestly, when some of the events of our trip were happening as I was writing about it, particularly this conflict with my mom when we were in Detroit, I thought, never in a million will I write about this. I could never expose myself and her like that. And then the process of writing the book showed me what those events meant, and how they connected to what had happened in the past, and I could see they were part of the whole cloth of the story – I couldn’t cut them out.

I already had my parent’s blessing to write about the more ancient history in our family, particularly because we all saw the book as a means of helping others with similar struggles. So we built on that foundation when it came to working through more current events. In fact, the method we arrived at was that I would read them a chapter a week over a video call, because hearing it in my voice and seeing my emotion helped them process it better. Then they would respond, offer their perspective on events, correct my memory in places.

The saving grace, I think, is that my parents know we all have our own take on what happened, and they believe I’m entitled to tell my version. I feel very lucky that they can be that generous.

(By the way, if you want to read a pair of books that get even deeper into the workings of writing about one’s parents, I can highly recommend Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Are You My Mother?)

In the end I suppose I get my nerve to publish from the belief that this book wanted to be a thing. Pilgrimage of Desire came knocking and I signed on for the ride. I’m just beginning to see the impact the book has on its readers, and I already know that it’s been worth it.

 

Alison’s book, Pilgrimage of Desire, is now available to order. Go buy it! Trust me on this – you won’t regret it!

Also, go check out Alison’s post where the tables were turned and she interviewed me.

How to make a finger labyrinth (that is also a piece of art)

how to make a finger labyrinth“Release, receive, and return.” That’s what the labyrinth invites us to do.

Yesterday, I needed to release, receive, and return. I was stressing out about the ongoing tension between “do the thing that brings in money” and “do the thing that’s calling you next” – the ever-present question of all soulful entrepreneurs.

I wanted to go to the labyrinth, but it’s covered in snow, so I did the next best thing… I made a finger labyrinth. It turns out that making a labyrinth is almost as good as walking one for that whole “release, receive, and return thing.”

Since I use labyrinths a lot in my work (especially The Spiral Path, which is a 21 lesson journey through the labyrinth to your authentic heart), I thought I’d share the steps in making my finger labyrinth in case you’d like to make one too.

You’ll need:

  • a square canvas or piece of wood (I used an 11X11″ canvas)
  • a print out of your favourite labyrinth design, printed to the scale of the canvas (For an 11X11 canvas in the 7 path Chartres design that I made, here’s a pdf that prints on two 8.5X11 pieces of paper. If you prefer a different design, just Google “labyrinth template”)
  • heavy string
  • glue (I used a hot glue gun and white glue, but if you don’t have a glue gun, white glue is fine)
  • newsprint or other paper (whatever you use should be fairly thin)
  • mod podge (or just use gel medium)
  • gel medium
  • acrylic paint

Step 1. Print the labyrinth design and glue it onto the canvas or board. I used ordinary white glue, spread thin with a spreader (any straight plastic edge, like an old credit card) will work. Use the spreader to work out any bubbles in the paper (though it doesn’t have to be too fussy, since you’ll cover it).

finger labyrinth 1

Step #2. Glue heavy string onto all of the black lines. I used the hot glue gun for this because it dries faster, but it would work fine with white glue.

finger labyrinth - 4

Step #3. Cut lots of short strips of newsprint. I used blank newsprint, because it’s easier to paint over, but you could use newspaper. You could also use coloured paper if you don’t want to paint it. Tissue paper would also work, but you’d need a few layers to make sure the black is covered. The strips I used were approx. .75″ by 3″. You don’t have to be fussy about it, but you’ll want them wide enough to cover the string and adhere to the surface without covering two lines of string at the same time.

Step #4. Slather mod podge (or gel medium) generously on a section of string. Add a strip of paper and cover the paper with more mod podge (or gel medium). The best way to do this is with your fingers, so be prepared to get a little messy.

finger labyrinth 9

Step #5. Keep going until you have the whole labyrinth and canvas covered with strips of paper. Some spots are tricky (especially if you decide to do the flower pattern at the centre, like I did), so you’ll have to let go of your inner perfectionist and let it be a little imperfect. Make sure it’s all well coated with mod podge (or gel medium). Let it dry.

finger labyrinth 10

Step #6. If you want to paint it, add a layer of gel medium once it’s dry (this time you can do it with a paint brush) to smooth out some of the rough edges and to make sure the paint adheres to the surface.

Step #7. Paint it however you like. I used three tones of acrylic paint for the ombre effect (crimson, burnt sienna and ochre.

finger labyrinth 13

Step #8. If you want to give it a more textured, aged effect, rub a glaze over it. I used a brown glaze (acrylic paint mixed with gel medium) and rubbed it on with your fingers. Because I’d layered on the gel medium a little too thick, there were some cracks and the dark glazed picked these up, giving it a bit more of an aged look.finger labyrinth 15

Step #9. Hang it on your wall or keep it in your studio, bedroom, or sanctuary where you can use it as a meditation tool.

Here are some tips for using your finger labyrinth…

  • Before you start, take some time to settle in to a position in which you’re comfortable. Take some slow deep breaths to centre you in your practice.
  • You may want to journal before and/or after the practice.
  • Before you begin, you may wish to set an intention or ask a question that you will carry with you into the labyrinth, but be careful to keep it open-ended so that you’re open to surprise.
  • Say a prayer, if you like, for support, healing, and guidance.
  • Place a finger at the entrance of the labyrinth. Some people suggest that you use your non-dominant hand, as research suggests that our non-dominant hand has easier access to our intuition.
  • As you follow the path with your finger inward, be conscious and intentional about releasing whatever stresses, worries, or distractions you might be feeling. Breathe deeply and slowly.
  • Pause whenever you want, but don’t lift your finger off the labyrinth.
  • When distracting thoughts come up, simply let them pass and wish them well as they leave your mind.
  • When you reach the centre, pause for awhile and receive. Be open to whatever guidance and wisdom you may need, even if it’s not what you expected.
  • When you’re ready, follow the path outward, consciously returning and bringing the wisdom of the centre out into your life with you.
  • In your journal, write or sketch anything that came to you while you made the journey.
  • Don’t try too hard. Sometimes the wisdom of the labyrinth is simply the pause that it forces you to take. Sometimes nothing obvious shows up, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t time well spent. Stay open and receptive.

Starting February 1, 2015, you can join me in a 21 lesson journey through the labyrinth, back to your authentic heart in The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself. In the first seven lessons, you’ll release what no longer serves you. In the next seven lessons, you’ll open yourself to receiving. In the final seven lessons, you’ll return from the journey.

How to make an inexpensive portable labyrinth

I often use labyrinths in my retreats and workshops, and until now I’ve either used what’s available onsite, or I’ve created them with string, mowed them into grass, or made them out of dried leaves.

This weekend, I finally made a portable labyrinth that I can carry with me.

IMG_1558When I shared the result on social media, several people asked for details about how I made it. Here’s how:

IMG_15611. Since canvas can be quite expensive, I looked for a less expensive alternative. At the local Home Depot, I found painting drop cloths that were 4′ x 20′. They worked well because they’re fabric on one side and plastic on the other so that they absorb the paint without soaking through to the floor. Plus they’re fairly light weight for easier transport. (They cost $22 each, so my total investment was $110, since I had all of the other materials on hand.)

2. I wanted to make my labyrinth approximately 20′ x 20′, so I bought 5 drop cloths and sewed them together. They’re hemmed along the long edges, and at first I was going to seam-rip all of the hems, but that was far too tedious, so I just cut off the hems (losing a bit of the width, but I was okay with that) and sewed them. Tip: I had access to a large space for my labyrinth creation (a church floor), and I recommend doing the sewing in a fairly large space too. It’s bulky and a little awkward.

IMG_15463. Once the dropcloths were sewn together, I drew the outline of the labyrinth with chalk. I started by measuring where my centre was and making a chalk mark there. Then I placed a paint can at the centre and tied a long string loosely on it to use as a giant compass/protractor. Tip: Make sure the string is loose enough on the can so that it rotates as you move around the circle.

4. I wanted to make a 5-path version of the Chartres labyrinth. To figure out how wide my paths should be, I started by making the largest circle (to within a couple of inches of the edge of the canvas) and then making the centre circle (large enough that three people can comfortably stand in it). Then I measured the distance between the centre circle and the outside circle and divided it by 5. It came to 17.5 inches.

5. Shortening my string each time, I drew the concentric circles. concentric circles for labyrinth

6. From there, it’s a matter of drawing the horizontal and vertical lines and then erasing the parts of the circle that aren’t needed. As you’ll see in the design I used, the horizontal and vertical lines all connect circles, so you need to pay attention to which of the circles you’re connecting, and then measure the same width as your path (17.5″ in my case) from that line to know how much of the circle to erase.  Tip: The chalk marks are easy to brush away with a household brush (I used a pot scrubber).labyrinth 5 path

7. Once I had the chalk lines in place, I started painting. To keep it inexpensive, I used some leftover acrylic house paint for my lines, which worked great. I painted on the inside of each chalk line to keep it consistent.

8. For the width of the lines, I simply painted as wide as a small sponge brush. The edges of my lines are not very precise, since it’s hard to attain precision on fabric without driving yourself crazy, but I decided I was fine with that. It might have worked to put painters tape down, but that seemed like a lot of extra work to me (and I only had the space for a limited time) and I wasn’t sure how the tape would work around circles.

IMG_15519. After the paint had dried, I decided to touch up the edges a bit with a thinner brush. It took a fair bit of extra time, but I liked the more solid line, so it was worth it.

10. I let it dry for about 12 hours before folding it. It might have been a good idea to leave it longer, but the space was being used the next day so I needed to move it.

The hardest part of the whole process was all of the time spent (about 8 hours) crouching on the floor. By the end of it, I had a hard time unfolding my body! Stretching during my breaks helped, but I could have been more diligent.

In November I’ll be speaking about labyrinths at a conference and will use my new portable labyrinth for the first time. I’ll share pictures at that time.

If you’d like to learn more about labyrinths, I’m hosting a free call on Lessons from the Labyrinth on Tuesday, October 21st. (It will be recorded, so if you can’t make it, sign up anyway and I’ll send a link.) It will give you some general information about labyrinths and what they’ve taught me, and will also serve as an introduction to my new course The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself, which starts on November 1st.

What wisdom is hidden in your own voice?

labyrinth starts hereWhen you stand at the very centre of the Carol Shield’s labyrinth, as I did yesterday evening, and speak out to the edges, you will hear your own voice echoed ever so slightly back to you. You have to listen very carefully to hear it and you have to be standing in exactly the right spot or the echo evades you.

In labyrinthian journeys, the centre is known as the place where you open yourself to receiving from Spirit, after walking in and releasing what was previously getting in the way.

Which begs the question… what am I meant to receive from the echo of my own voice? What wisdom is already hidden in me that I might not yet be aware of?

Yesterday in church the pastor spoke about giftedness – how we need only be faithful with our gifts in order for them to multiply. At the centre of the labyrinth, I thought about that in relation to my voice. It’s a gift that already exists, coming out of a wisdom that God has already planted within me, and I don’t need to keep looking elsewhere for my source of inspiration.

Faithfulness to our gifts means that we must exercise them, train them, and grow them. Practice and study are both very important, but what’s also important is a deep level of trust in the gift itself.

In our eagerness to perfect the gift, and our insecurity about using it before it is sufficiently polished, we forget about the ancient wisdom already there. We forget that the unpolished gift already has beauty.

When I was a child, I had a growing realization that I had a unique ability to see things – to really see them in a deeper way than most people did. When I would try to explain things that I’d seen to other people, I knew by their lack of understanding that they’d never witnessed them in the same way that I did.

These were fairly ordinary things, but for me they had an aura of magic. For example, I was always captivated by the image of deer leaping over fences. That sight would freeze me in my tracks and I was stand in awe at the magic I had just witnessed. When I would try to explain how that sight impacted me, people would usually look at me with a puzzled look and I knew that they’d only ever seen deer leaping over fences as ordinary and not transcendent.

I stopped talking about things that seemed mystical to me. It made me feel too much like an oddball. Now, years later, I recognize that ability to see things as a part of the ancient wisdom buried in me. I am a meaning-maker, a storycatcher, a seer… perhaps even a mystic. I see metaphor and meaning in things that pass many people by. I receive messages from deer or trees or sunsets and I walk away changed. It’s still not always easy to talk about (as I mentioned in my last post), but I am growing in my ability to trust it.

In The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Richard Rohr talks about the three ways to see a sunset…

One man saw the immense physical beauty and enjoyed the event in itself. This man was the “sensate” type who, like 80 percent of the world, deals with what he can see, feel, touch, move, and fix. This was enough reality for him, for he had little interest in larger ideas, intuitions, or the grand scheme of things. He saw with his first eye, which was good.

A second man saw the sunset. He enjoyed all the beauty that the first man did. Like all lovers of coherent thought, technology, and science, he also enjoyed his power to make sense of the universe and explain what he discovered. He thought about the cyclical rotations of planets and stars. Through imagination, intuition, and reason, he saw with his second eye, which was even better.

The third man saw the sunset, knowing and enjoying all that the first and the second men did. But in his ability to progress from seeing to explaining to “tasting,” he also remained in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness that connected him with everything else. He used his third eye, which is the full goal of all seeing and all knowing. This was the best.

The third man, who sees with his third eye, is a mystic. As soon as I read Rohr’s description of what it means to be a mystic, I knew that this had something to do with the way that I’d always seen the world. The seeds of mysticism were already there when I stood in awe of deer leaping over fences.

I have read a thousand books, taken a thousand classes, and yet none of them can teach me to access the ancient wisdom – the wisdom of the seer – that is already within me. None of them can point to the gift that is meant for me to share. For that I must quiet all of the external voices, remove myself from the noise of my life and walk a labyrinth or wander the woods. That is when my own voice is echoed back at me and I know that I already have what I need.

What is the ancient wisdom buried in you? It may be body wisdom, heart wisdom, or head wisdom. It may be the ability to see justice, create order, experience beauty, shape stories, make people laugh, or offer compassion. What did you already know as a child, but might have been afraid to speak of or do or be because it made you seem like an oddball? What do you now need to do to create space for that wisdom to emerge?

To start with, find a quiet place where your wisdom can echo back to you through the silence. Walk away from the noise of other people’s voices and expectations and stand in silence with your God. In that quiet place, let your gift emerge from its hiding place, let it fill your heart with knowing, and give yourself permission to trust it. Then, by all means, practice, train, and polish it, but don’t forget to use it in the meantime. It already has value.

The gift is yours – be faithful in using it and it will multiply.

The value of being lost

It was remarkable how many people responded to my last post, through emails, comments, and Facebook posts. Repeatedly people said some version of: “YES! This is what I need too! I’ve been feeling so lost and your post felt like permission to tear up the maps and simply surrender to the path that lays itself out before me.”

It seems a lot of people need lack-of-vision boards instead of vision boards. It seems we all need to re-learn the importance of surrender.

In our goal-obsessed, vision-board-creating, be-busy-or-be-nothing, success-driven culture, we have forgotten something that’s really, really important.

There is great value in getting lost.

It’s true. We can’t go through the journey of life without letting ourselves get profoundly lost sometimes. The places where we get lost – where we surrender to the spiritual spirals that takes us into a deeper knowing, where we give up on the expected outcome and let something new emerge – those are the places in which we are transformed.

Yesterday, I curled up in bed next to my Mom and I wept over the way cancer is stealing her body and her energy. I wept for the things we can no longer do together. I wept for the future ahead that looks foreign and unfriendly. I wept for the great loss that the end of her life will bring. I wept because I felt utterly and completely lost.

Nobody gives you a roadmap for losing a parent. Nobody teaches you a course in how to watch cancer destroy someone you love. Nobody prepares you for a detour into the spiralling vortex of grief.

This one thought gave me some comfort me in my grief… I am SUPPOSED to feel lost. I’m supposed to feel like a ship that’s lost its anchor, tossed about on these unpredictable waves of longing and loss. I’m supposed to feel like the ground has been pulled out from underneath me and I am desperately clutching for something to keep me from falling.

This is all part of the process. This is all part of my journey.

Don’t get me wrong – just because I am deeply familiar with the chaos of grief, doesn’t make this easy. It’s excruciating and I’m fighting my way through waves of anger, heartache, and bitterness. “Must I go through this AGAIN?!” I shout to the heavens. “Isn’t it enough that Dad died in a ditch and it felt like that tractor had driven over my heart and not just his? Do you have to take Mom away too?”

I rant and I rave and I cry, but at least I give myself permission to be lost. At least I don’t have any unrealistic expectations of “closure” or  “acceptance” or “5 steps through grief”.

Back in June, I took part in a change lab in which we walked through Theory U, a rich and meaningful process that helps groups (and individuals) move through change by letting go of the past, “presencing” what is to come, and then, with an open heart and open mind, letting the new thing come. It wasn’t ostensibly designed to teach us about grief, but grief is part of every change process and so the two are closely intertwined. To get through any transformational change, we need to let go and let come. Like walking the labyrinth, we need to release, receive, and return.

In this profound place of loss in which I find myself again, I’m taking another deep dive into the U curve, letting go of the past, accepting the chaos, being present in the loss. All the while, I am connecting to Source, opening my heart and opening my mind to the new future.

This will change me. I will shed a lot of tears and release a lot of anger. It will tear me apart and then rebuild me into something new. It will be a stronger version of myself. I know this to be true. I am stronger for the paths of grief I have walked down. I am wiser for the loss I have suffered. I am more compassionate because I have graves to visit. I can call myself a “guide on the path through chaos to creativity” because I am deeply familiar with chaos and loss.

Remember this… You have permission to be lost. You have permission to let go. You have permission to dive into the bottom of the U, not knowing what will emerge after the surrender. You have permission to cry and rant and rave. You have permission to tear up maps and destroy the pretence of paths. You have permission to not make any goals but instead to surrender to what comes.

Let go, and then let come. And in between, keep breathing.

 

This is a pilgrimage story

This story has no clear beginning and no clear ending. It’s a pilgrimage story, and without going all the way back to the beginning of my life (and even the lives that were lived before mine that thread through mine), or waiting until I’m ready to die, I can only tell you about a small portion of that pilgrimage.

This week I’ve been revisiting my memoir, hoping to bring it to completion and eventually get it published. I set it aside months ago, thinking it was almost finished, but feeling like I might still be missing a piece of the puzzle.

I think I’ve found that puzzle piece. It started with adding the above words to the beginning. The story is now a pilgrimage story, with no clear beginning and no clear ending.

It used to be simpler. The very first time I tried to write it, it was about the three week period in the hospital waiting for Matthew to be born, and how that impacted me in a deeply spiritual way. The second time I wrote it, it was about a ten year transformation in my life, starting with the arrival of Matthew in my life. I was comparing myself to a caterpillar, going into a cocoon for ten years and eventually emerging as a butterfly. Or Theseus, heading into the labyrinth holding the thread, slaying the minotaur, and emerging victorious. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

But now, after months of contemplation, I know that it’s not that straight-forward. Transformation is not a clean and simple thing that we can put into time frames or boxes. I’m still transforming. I’m still being stretched. I’m still not a butterfly. I’m heading back into that labyrinth again and again.

And so I am more satisfied calling my journey a pilgrimage. My son’s death was one of a long series of initiations, each one taking me deeper and deeper into my own heart. Each one teaching me how little I actually know. Each one revealing something new about God.

Now I am at a new place in the journey. In past initiations on this pilgrimage, I have lost my innocence, lost a son, lost a father, nearly lost a husband more than once, lost a father-in-law, and lost all of my grandparents. (Incidentally, nearly all of those things happened around this time of year.) I have fought the minotaur many times and returned from the labyrinth scarred and yet stronger. I expect my next initiation will be to learn what it’s like to lose a mother.

My responsibility as a pilgrim is simply to put one foot in front of the other and keep following the path. When the labyrinths appear along the path, I need to trust that a sword and a thread will be provided  to help me survive.

If you’re interested in being part of  a conversation about life as pilgrimage, join me tomorrow morning as I talk to my friend Ronna Detrick on her virtual Sunday Service at 10 am PST. 

Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free ‘travel packages’ sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage – ‘a transformative journey to a sacred center’ full of hardships, darkness, and peril.   – Parker Palmer, Let your Life Speak

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