You are not surprised at the force of the storm
—you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window. . .
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
As you may have noticed, the poet Rilke has been speaking to my heart a great deal lately. For several months while preparing to cross this threshold for our move to Vienna I would read his words in German as part of my morning prayer time and see what I could understand, see how the words in their original language shimmered differently.
Now that we are setlled on the other side of the great sea, I am drawn back to Rilke again, a man who wrote so powerfully about transitions and thresholds, and the deep longing which rises up within us to meet the One whom you long to move towards.
“Ripening” is a metaphor he often engages to speak of our own movement toward the fullness of who we were created to be. Summer is a celebration of ripening, a time to linger over those things which have reached their peak and offer up their nourishment.
Where are you ripening in your life right now?
I received so many beautiful emails in response to my love note last week about my mother. I am always so deeply grateful to hear how my words land in the hearts of others.
One astute monk wrote back to ask if I had been able yet to forgive my father for his abandonment of my mother in her illness or if that was the purpose of my move to Vienna.
Indeed it is a journey of healing I am on right now in this ancestral landscape. I have shared several times in the past about my personal work with family systems and ancestry. How I believe that we do the hard work of exposing family secrets, and looking at wounded places, on behalf of ourselves, but also on behalf of those who came before us. I believe this is deeply rooted in the monk’s commitment to stability: to come to know intimately not just the place where one lives, but the multitude of landscapes through which ancestors journeyed, which shaped their dreams and sorrows, so we come to know our own. Stability is also about staying with experiences that are painful, rather than turning away.
My father was a deeply wounded man and my relationship with him was deeply conflicted, as I am sure many of you have experienced with a parent. He suffered from multiple addictions: work, alcohol, gambling, sex. He would sometimes come to Vienna by himself to follow these compulsions, where prostitution is legalized, and casinos on the main pedestrian zone beckon.
Vienna is a stuningly beautiful city with many dark shadows for my own family story. When I walk these streets I remember the delight of childhood memories and the profound sadness of my father’s inability to truly love his daughter. And yet some of my most cherished memories of my father are in Austria as well: times we went on long hikes through the mountains of the Tirolean region, wandering through the Vienna woods, listening to classical music together. I hold the tension of these different sides to my experience together.
As Rilke writes, I see the force of the storm growing and yet I am called to walk into it, all my senses singing of the One who calls me across this threshold.
My father died quite suddenly when I was twenty-five years old. A massive heart attack from years of smoking and drinking. We hadn’t spoken for several months before and so at the time I didn’t feel much of anything, other than tremendous relief. My anger didn’t rise though until the untimely death of my mother eight years later. Then I found myself railing at his hollowness. I grieved not having the care and protection of a father.
Over the last few years I have felt the call to make several journeys on his behalf: coming to Vienna each year to wander these streets again and listen for his voice, traveling twice to Riga, Latvia, the place where he was actually born and grew up before being wrested away from home when the Russians invaded during World War II. I have spent time with my dear aunt, his twin sister, born just a few minutes after my father and yet became a dramatically different person – kind, caring, loving. She told me many stories of their childhood and the ways their parents neglected them, and how this pattern goes back generations.
So the call to live in Vienna is filled with contradictions for me. There is everything that I love about this city: art, architecture, music, food, the Vienna woods, a slower pace of life, childhood memories. And there is all that still lingers in the darkness.
I am here to stay awake to the pain of those stories, to redeem them by giving them voice. I am here to look unflinchingly at the legacy of abandonment over generations. I am here to bring healing to myself, to my father, and to the multitude of ancestors who were cloaked in addictions, or suffered the ravages of war, or who never had the opportunity to live any differently.
I have to keep reminding myself of the purpose of this journey. When we cross borders in the literal world, we are asked variations of the question: “What is the purpose of your journey?” And we must answer to be allowed passage. So I keep asking myself this question, so as not to fall asleep to my deeper desire for healing and solace. It would be so easy for this year to be about simply basking in the beauty of a new life and to neglect this deeper question.
And on these streets I have been hearing my father whisper. What is amazing to me is that it is not the harsh, demanding, and critical voice I usually hear when his words cascade my way. Instead, I am starting to hear a kinder, softer voice. A voice of vulnerabilty and some tenderness.
Maybe this is the kind of threshold you are being called to cross: the healing of family wounds, perhaps with family members still living or those who have passed on but leave their imprint. Telling the stories that have bee kept secret until now.
Thresholds come in so many shapes and guises. They are any invitation to step across into unknowing, but at the same time a deep unknowing that this crossing brings with it the possibility of new hope, new life, new healing.
Women on the Threshold will offer a multitude of ancient stories of women who have traveled this path before, including women from scripture and the mystics, as well as others.
Please join us here. You have the option of the email content and a private forum for online conversation with all the women gathered for this event AND you can add individual spiritual direction with any of our facilitators for extra support.
Do you have questions about whether this program is right for you? Email me!
If you are drawn to exploring the monk and artist’s path this fall, Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist is also being offered again in its 12-week online format with just a couple of spaces left! Always a transformative journey as well. . .