Now it is time to sit quiet
alone with You
and to Sing
a re-dedication of my life
in this Silent
and overflowing joy.
—Rabindranath Tagore, “A Moment’s Indulgence”
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I offer you this excerpt from my new book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey. These are words which have been coming back to me as I begin my summer sabbatical and offering me consolation and refreshment. May they offer the same to you:
I received the poem above when I attended a silent retreat a couple of years ago at a retreat center in Austria called Die Quelle, a name that means “The Source.” The words called us to sit in silence by the side of God, the Source, and the ground of Love. I attended the retreat soon after my husband and I had moved to Vienna, and so I was feeling acutely the distance from “home.”
“Sing a rededication of my life” is a line from Tagore’s poem that shimmered for me throughout the week. When I read those words, I knew that was why I’d come to this place: to rededicate myself to this path, to deepen into stillness, to commit again to the contemplative way in the midst of life. This is why we embark on pilgrimage, to rediscover what it is we already know most deeply within ourselves. This is a kind of coming home.
I sat in spiritual direction and at the end of our time my retreat guide asked me, “What is
your purpose?” Not what I do for work, but what is my deeper purpose as a human being in this life? Pilgrimage brings us intimately in touch with this question.
I went on a long hike on a hot and humid day. Thankfully, the forest provided some relief as I hiked into the beauty of the silent woods, not a single person around. The only company with me came in the form of a pair of deer and ants scrambling over the ground.
As I climbed the hills, I could feel my heart beat hard in my chest, and I relished the experience of being alive. After about an hour, it was time to turn back so that I wouldn’t be late for evening meditation. I descended to the end of the trail and found a water trough with free-flowing, ice-cold water.
I stood, hot and sweaty from the exertion, under the bright blue sunlit sky. My hands trembled as I plunged them in the pool of water and felt enlivened by the gift. I drank thirstily to quench myself. I splashed the water on my head and blessed myself. I felt alive and grateful. I felt at home in the world.
I returned for silent meditation, feeling the exhilaration of the journey. As I settled into the quiet, the retreat director’s question about my purpose came to me. A phrase shimmered forth in response: “Drink freely of the life you have been given.”
I settled into meditation, savoring the gift of cold mountain water at the end of a long, hot hike. This moment resembled my life: the call to become willing to receive freely the gift of refreshment so generously offered to me.
Ten minutes into our half hour of prayer, I heard the sound of rain beginning to fall outside on the roof. By the time prayer finished and we went to dinner, the sky poured forth water. The storm seemed to come out of nowhere. I felt like God was saying, “See, there is not just a fountain to drink from but an abundance being offered to you.” When we arrive home again, we discover that life is fuller than we had ever noticed before.
The rest of my retreat broke open this invitation, this “word” I had received in prayer:
“Drink freely” meant not to hold back, to allow myself to be quenched, and to give myself over to the offering. Those voices of criticism and judgment are just ways we hold ourselves back from receiving the fullness being offered. When we do, we reject the generous love of God.
“. . . of the life you have been given,” meaning the one, brilliant, beautiful, and unique experience of being me in this moment of time.
This phrase seems so basic and something I already knew. In other ways, I am struck by how hard it is to live a life of not holding ourselves back from God. We also seem to avoid giving ourselves over to the gift of our wondrous experience.
Each day on the retreat, in the morning and evening, we lit a small fire as part of our ritual of reminding ourselves that another twelve hours had passed. The director asked us repeated questions: What choices had we made? How would we live this next twelve hours? How will I drink freely in the hours to come?
How quickly we fall asleep again and again to this truth, that life is extraordinarily precious. Each is a unique expression of the divine, and there is the paradox that within the felt limits of chronological time, there is a generosity beyond our imagining pouring forth life into us.
The question becomes: How do we stay awake? How do we drink freely and abundantly? How do we stop holding back? How do we embrace the home within us that calls us to return?
With great and growing love,
*This note is excerpted from Christine’s book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey.
PS. If you missed Joel McKerrow’s fabulous poem last week “We Dance Wild” written just for the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks please stop by this link to read it and listen to him reading it aloud.