Navigating Landscapes

This past week has probably been one of the most challenging in my life.  My 23 year old niece died of a very stray bullet flying from a half mile away (high powered rifle, what were they thinking!), I had some parent classes to teach at school, an interview for a much coveted position and a reflection to give at church.  The one thing I couldn’t let slide off my plate was the interview – and while I had a really tough time focusing myself (and did fail the interview) the other obligations helped me maintain some sense of sanity and energy for life.

Now that my niece’s memorial is over and I can some how find a routine again, I want to respond to the request to re-share the reflection I gave at church so here it is – I read the essay part and my friend read the poems written by Jan L. Richardson:

June 23, 2013

Reflection – Navigating One’s Inner Landscape
Amelia Bacon

My theme for reflection today – Navigating One’s Inner Landscape – was inspired by my work with two sources: prompts and poetry compiled by Jan L. Richardson, an ordained United Methodist Minister and artist-in-resident in Florida, and a process I was introduced to three years ago called “one little word.”  I’ll begin by describing my one little word work.

This was a suggestion shared with me by a fellow blog writer: instead of choosing a New Year’s Resolution, the idea is to choose one little word.  This word could describe an action, way of thinking or being, or just a posture I want to live into in the coming year.  Three years ago I chose the word Notice.  I had begun to really explore photography more and was writing poetry regularly and thought it would be a great word to tag my year with.  One of the ways I used the one little word project was to create a monthly reflection including poetry and photos of how that word worked in my life.

It was such a rewarding experience that I was eager to choose a word for 2012 and resolutely decided on the word Delight.  In this case, I was choosing a word describing something I wanted more of.  My husband had lost his job, aspects of my own job were becoming increasingly frustrating and I just wanted to pay attention to something positive.

But as 2012 was coming to an end, I was struggling to name a new word for myself.  It might seem silly to be in such a dilemma but this experience had proven to be provocative enough spiritually and creatively that I really wanted to figure out a way to move forward with it.

And now the intersection with Jan Richardson’s work.  Cindy Bauleke was the first person to introduce me to Jan’s work and since then I’ve used her books for book studies with women and have found my own art and writing to have been profoundly influenced by this exposure.  Last Advent season, Sharry shared a web link to a collection of writing, prompts and prayers Jan compiled as a way to take a personal retreat.  Tara used some of it at a Wednesday worship and my One Little Word for 2013 jumped out at me.  The word is Pilgrim – listen for it in Jan’s poem,  “For Those Who Have Far to Travel.”

If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road;
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by
single step.

There is nothing
for it
but to go
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:

to be faithful to
the next step;
to relay on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;

to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions
beyond fatigue
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.

These are vows
that only you
will know;
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;

each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
most needed –
the gift that only you
can give –
before turning to go
home by
another way.

Jan’s theme for her retreat was “The Map You Make Yourself” and for me that is the essence of being a pilgrim – paying attention to more than just the journey.  We speak of journeying all the time in this church but I haven’t spent much time visualizing or writing about my mapmaking on this journey.

I love maps; the side pockets of my car are stuffed with them despite the ease of Google Maps on my phone.  I love the big picture, wide lens, aerial nature of maps.  They tell me what is beyond my horizon.  But often what becomes essential on a journey isn’t on the map.

As I was preparing this reflection, I recalled the trips our family took up and down the east coast.  My dad always tried to travel as close to the water as possible.  He cherished the views of water and watercraft and we’d often stop at little beaches, stunning overlooks or little quays along the way.  My mom seemed to have an inner app for every yearn store along the way.  Usually we’d end up picnicking next to the car while she trolled bins of wool and fiber.  Often the side trips became the real content of our trips together rather than the original “points of interest” we had set out to get to by night fall.  This way of mapping our camping trips may seem an odd detour to reference but they were core to who my parents were and are and helped me learn what they value and how they make decisions.  My parents made it clear it was important to pay as much attention to sights along the way as to the main events in life.  This became part of my personal core and lore.

And isn’t that the way of real life?  We have guide books presented to us early on with designated destination points but it is the mapping along the way that is the real essence of life and journey taking.  With my children and majority of nieces and nephew between the ages of 21 and 31, I am acutely aware of such designated destination points being named by them: graduations, jobs, apartments, marriages, grad school, babies.  We fall into this trap of thinking the mapmaking is about getting from point A to point B, and categorizing the route with statements such as “fork in the road,” “serendipitous event,” “derailment,” but we don’t explore more deeply the internal mapmaking taking place.  (reading By Another Way, Jan Richardson)

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing,
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.

For today,
choose the door
that opens
to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center of your life.

No map
but the one
you make yourself.

No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim’s way.

Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.

Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection.
Ask for the guidance you need.


Offer gladness
for the gifts that come
and then
let them go.

Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome

Again, I come back to the work of a pilgrim describe in this way by Mark Nepo:  “To journey without being changed is to be a nomad.   To change without journeying is to be a chameleon.  To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.” But how do I pay attention to the transformation?

My parents taught me early on that in order to really get something out of an experience,  I would have to put more of myself into it.  I couldn’t just access the fun stuff in Girl Scouts like the crafts and campouts, I had to pick up litter on the high way, gather food for the food bank, sell cookies and visit nursing homes.  When I returned to this church after college because of a desire to reconnect with my community, I knew I was going to have to jump in with both feet.  I volunteered with the youth group, I became a board member as well as the fun stuff like book studies, faith formation experiences and getting a little break from my children during worship. (sorry kids) And then I was called to do something harder – something transformational.  I became one of the first Stephen Ministers.

Yes it was difficult.  My husband worked shift work so I had to find childcare.  But my children will tell you this is part of their core and lore – my participation showed them my inner mapmaking and in turn influenced their inner mapmaking.

I think navigating one’s inner landscape is about identifying more than my life’s points of interest or points of significance.  I believe it’s about understanding how and why I put the tripod down and look through the scope to record where I have been and where I am going.  For me a core piece of understanding how to even set up my tripod and use the scope comes from my spiritual work done in this community. Beside noting the high peaks, low valleys, rough terrain and smooth, my relationship with God has helped when I’ve come to the edge of my known world – where roiling sea serpents frolic and storms rage.  What are some of the map edges I’ve come to:  having a child born with a disability, having my husband lose his job, having my niece die of gunshot wound, all edges of the world I was prepared for with my current guide book.  Every time I’ve come to those edges of my map, I’ve had help figuring out how to set up my tripod, look out and in, and navigate forward.  (Walking Blessing)

 I pray….

That each step
may be shedding.
That you will let yourself
become lost.
That when it looks
like you’re going backwards,
you may be making progress.
That progress is not the goal anyway,
but presence
to the feel of the path on your skin,
to the way it reshapes you
in each place it makes contact,
to the way you cannot see it
until the moment you have stepped out.

All of what has come before and what will come to be is a part of my personal journey – a transformational journey of being a pilgrim – in little community circles, and big community circles.  This is not a pilgrimage – I am not on a journey born of religious devotion – I am on a journey as a pilgrim “embarking on a quest for something conceived as sacred.”  What could be more sacred than mapping one’s relationship with God?  My desire for everyone I love – my family, my friends, my community – is that we learn the best ways to help each other when we come to the edges of our known worlds.

There will be inner and outer mapping happening over the coming year.  Listen again to Isaiah: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Thank you all and may I extend this modified blessing: (Jan Richardson)

“God beyond borders, may we wander with wanting enough to unlearn our paths, with wonder enough to receive the secrets of each place, with wisdom enough to allow them to whisper us home a different way.”

About Ameliasb

daughter, sister, wife, mom, early childhood specialist, creator of poems, photos and sweaters View all posts by Ameliasb

3 responses to “Navigating Landscapes

  • mayawoodall

    Wow. This is nourishment for the journey. Thanks for sharing the poetry and your wisdom and insight. I am sorry for your loss and your struggles. I am excited for your transformation. You are indeed a pilgrim.

  • Katie #3

    thanks for sharing – I love the writings of Jan. Can’t wait to spend time with you over the next few days, dear sister!

  • JeNan Merrill

    I have pondered on this post for many many days now. There is so much here I still trying to take it all in. I particularly love this part:
    to heed the signposts
    of intuition and dream;
    to follow the star
    that only you
    will recognize
    And I hope to have the wisdom to hear the whispers that take me home a different way.
    I am sorry for the challenges that have brought you to the edges of your world. But I am thankful for the ways you have determined to seek God as your guide. You have inspired and challenged me to do the same. As always, Thank you.

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