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
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
There is nothing
to be faithful to
to keep an open eye
These are vows
Keep them, break them,
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
Travel the most ancient way
Speak this blessing
Eat when hungry.
Pray for protection.
Do not expect
but by the star
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)
That each step
may be shedding.
That you will let yourself
That when it looks
like you’re going backwards,
you may be making progress.
That progress is not the goal anyway,
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.”