I long for You so much (a time of retreat)

I long for You so much
I have even begun to travel
Where I have never been before.

-Hafiz (excerpt)

Last week on Tuesday I piled my things into the car, the essentials like my journal, my yoga mat, my camera, and of course my sweet Petunia.  We headed north on I-5 to the Canadian border.  Two elements of getting to a retreat that feel important to me are a border crossing and a ferry ride and this time I had the gift of both.  When I arrived at the guard booth though, to my disappointment the guard waved me through with half a smile.  I wanted to be asked the purpose for my journey. I wanted the guardian of the threshold to invite me to speak about where I was going. I wanted to say, I am longing for God so much, I find myself here at the boundary wanting to enter into new territory.

The next step was boarding the ferry. Last year while I had the gift of my time at the hermitage each week I would travel across the Sound and hold the words from Jane Siberry’s song: “Will you sail ‘cross the water and tell us what you found.”  Something about that act of leaving the land mass of home and journeying across the depths of the sea speaks to me of my own interior journey and my desire for discovery.

It was dusk when we departed, that liminal time between day and night, when the world basks in the beauty of endings.  

God was wildly waving saffron ribbons across the sky in jubilation for me. I could hear the sacred voice singing “yes!  Come closer to me, come to be near me.”  Seagulls glide past the boat and I want to spread my wings as wide as theirs and surrender into the current that carries me.

As we near our destination a group of young women gather by their car and sing chants.  Simple phrases again and again, creating a spiral of song encircling each one who would listen. “My body is the body of the goddess” I hear them speak with exuberance. For a moment I am connected to my fellow travelers, standing there above the great sea, feeling the connection between my own body and the earth far below.  I look up and see that the full moon has risen, veiled and shy, tentative in her self-revelation.  I understand her desire to not be fully exposed, but to rest comfortably in the mist.

As night rises over and around us like a swelling river I arrive at my destination, the place that will hold me these next few days like a tabernacle.  The moon becomes bolder, shrugging off her shawl to reveal her full-bodied self illuminating the darkness.  She has become a presence, a companion to me for this sacred time. I feel her fullness in my belly, round and whole, like the moment after having fully inhaled.  The moon and I will begin on this retreat to exhale again.

The next day I head to one of my favorite places where forest edge meets the sea, where wild meets wild and I can dwell between them walking for hours over soft damp earth, stepping over tree roots reaching up out of the ground inviting me to contemplate my own rootedness.

I pause regularly along the way to be present to the sea pressed against the edges of the trail.  I dip my fingers in the cold saltwater and wash my face.  I want to immerse myself and be baptized again. I want to swim long and hard until I can feel my heart pounding in my ears reminding me that I am alive.  I want to float like a fallen leaf, surprised at its own good fortune that instead of landing on hard ground, it was received like a holy offering, and can dwell suspended there for a while. Death does not have to come just yet.

I drive back to my little cottage and stop at farm stands selling their goods, nourishment from this earth, beauty offered from this place.

Upon my return, my spiritual director reminds me that rest is an essential element to a meaningful retreat.  Time to restore my body, time to listen to the wisdom of my dreams.

I sleep long and hard, I am surprised at how tired I am.  The next morning I discover the world wrapped in a silver covering, a cloth draped around me like vestments I am to wear to move into the liturgy of the day.

Later the rain begins to fall casting reflections onto the ground. I long for a sacred mirror to see myself in God’s eyes, to know of my goodness, to see my own beauty, to discover God within me, closer than I am to myself.

The world becomes a vessel of tears, an act of solidarity with my sorrow.  A gesture of hospitality, welcoming me into its extended arms.  I am filled with a sense that the earth knows my grief.  More than that, my tears originate from the soil and sky, flowing through me in a lament for the suffering of all of creation.

I return later that day to the trail at the wild edges.  I feel the presence of my mother so clearly there, as if I were breathing her in and myself out.  I am surprised by my desire to feel my father with me too.  With him, as in life, it is much more of a struggle.  I try to make a welcoming space within myself and I wonder if it can ever be wide enough.  I continue to walk and I ask whether they are both there with me there, my mother and my father, reaching out from that dark curtain.  From the stillness, I look down on the trail and discover two small feathers as if the sky tumbled its reply to the ground before me. I place them in my palm to examine my treasures, to feel the hard spine and soft extensions pressed into my skin. I look more closely and see a third tiny feather attached to them. 

After I return back to Seattle, I feel I am not done, I must be out on the earth again.  I have another communication from the sky, offering me solace and the wisdom of both mother and father.  My longing for God, as Hafiz says, has brought me to new landscapes, new revelations.

The feathers go on my altar. My heart continues to beat loudly in my ears or are those the wings of the holy?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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