The worries overwhelming my life are snowballing down a very large hill. Fear not, I’m used to this sort of drama. When life seems to get this way, I know it’s time to get away.
This past weekend, my church sponsored a contemplative retreat at the Bon Secours Spiritual Center. There were probably about 30 or so of us – mostly the “spooky spiritual” folks at my church. There were 5 other young adult ladies on the trip, but for the most part, everyone there was middle-aged or older. These are the people that I see every week at church, but never really know what to say to them. It was really great forging some new friendships – especially with those who have walked many miles down the paths I find myself on presently. Their wisdom means so much to me – especially since I typically feel more lost than found on any given day.
How apropos that the theme of this year’s retreat was “The Inward/Outward Journey” – accented quite nicely by the beautiful prayer labyrinth at the facility. I think nearly everyone took a whirl through that labyrinth, and everyone (including myself) had an amazing experience with it.
I would say the last 5 years of my life (especially the last 2) has been this very inward journey. And necessarily so, methinks. I desperately needed to find myself and be stripped of the baggage that I’ve picked up along the way to fulfill the expectations of those around me. But in the last few months, I’ve felt a strong desire to start moving outward.
I think the most significant part of the weekend was a saturday afternoon hike I went on with the other young adults. I knew we were in trouble when our “guide” (Rachel) blurted out “Gosh, I just got lost in the building!” Eep!
Needless to say, we started off on the wrong trail, and then spent the next hour and a half trying to find the right one. It’s funny how stubborn people can be. No matter how lost we got, we kept forging forward, hoping that we could find the right way. Eventually, we ended up in some country neighborhood, and I volunteered to be the one to go ahead and make a fool of myself by asking some random resident to point us to the river we were looking for.
A half hour later, we’ve gone down the road and found the railroad tracks that run parallel to the river, and we’re walking, walking, walking – keenly peering at the woods alongside us, hoping to catch a glimpse of that elusive trail that would take us back home.
We never found it
Leigh Ellen and I found some sort of trail, seemingly etched out by a few lonely, bored hikers in days of yore. We decided to check it out, and see if it would perhaps lead the way home. The rest of our party decided to give up and go back the way we originally came, but not the dauntless Leigh Ellen and Darren! No, we instead trudged forward on our “trail”, finding that it ran parallel to the railroad tracks (and the rest of our party). But about 2/10 of a mile down, our path diverged from the tracks, further off into the woods. We didn’t want to risk losing our party, so we decided to head back to the rairload tracks and rejoin them.
Problem is, there was a good bit of land between us and them – and it wasn’t as easy to cross as it had been further back! But we set out to cross it anyway.
Leigh Ellen walked ahead of me and dutifully warned me that it was a bit muddy.
An understatement like this has ne’er been uttered! I took one step and felt the thick mud oozing around my shoes. I took another step and felt the same. But the third step . . . the third step was different. Suddenly, the mud felt . . . closer . . . as if I had actually made contact with earth.
I looked back to see the very tippy top of my left shoe still lying in the mud. I looked down to see the ground envoloping my foot!
I went into panic mode, and just started screaming all sorts of expletives! (I believe “shit” came out – figuratively speaking, of course – at least a dozen times within a small span of time.)
I had now lost both shoes, and was carrying them in my hands, and that’s when we both realized that the thickets and weeds around us were suddenly getting deeper.
. . . and they had thorns!
Next thing you know, we’re in the middle of this hellish bog. We stopped for a second to reconsider our course. Should we retreat and go back? Or should we keep pressing forward to reach the tracks? My partner wisely noted that either way we go, we’re going to get muddy and all scratched up . . . so we pressed on.
After what seemed like an eternity of vicious attacks from sharp-toothed weeds, we finally made it to the end of the bog. I took off my socks so as not to get all that mud on the inside of my shoes, slipped them on, and then realized there was one last obstacle to reaching the tracks: a mound of rocks to climb!
That actually proved to be the easiest part of our journey. After reaching the top and walking the railroad tracks back, we caught up with the rest of our party a half-mile later, with legs absolutely burning from scores of tiny scratches blanketing our lower limbs.
A half hour later, we found ourselves safely back at the spiritual center, but Leigh Ellen and I had definitely had an extra ounce of meaning to our journey. We bonded through that experience.
As the weekend wore on, all of the metaphorical implications of this little jaunt of ours started to make their way into my psyche.
I realize that we’re all on a journey. Thing is, I really don’t think anyone wakes up one day and says “gosh, I really wanna just get lost and all fucked up today!” Yet it happens. I think we’ve all experienced it, no? We find ourselves in the middle of a bog and we wonder what in the world we should do now that we’re in a mess so big, that we never could have imagined even in our most eerie nightmares.
And this is why Jesus is so significant to me. I don’t mean to knock any other Gods or gods or what have you. I truly respect the deities many of us serve. But what stands out to me about Jesus was how “Leigh Ellen – like” He is. I don’t know that I could have made it through that without her . . . without her encouraging me, and speaking reason into the situation, and just being willing to keep moving with me.
The Christian God isn’t just this ethereal being “way out there”. He actually came to the world He created, and interacted with it in a fresh new way: a human way.
I found myself crying several times on Sunday – out of the blue, really. Because I couldn’t seem to shake this image of Jesus being the kind of friend that gets His legs all scratched up with me.
I was brought up with this image of Jesus that He just rescues you out of your hell, and takes all your problems away. So I spent years and years begging for just that. But my real, true, raw God experiences have all been something more painful, yet somehow more beautiful than all of that. They have been of a Jesus who comforts me by walking in the midst of my mess, and walking with me out of it. He feels my anguish in a very real way – in the way that I feel it. And He gets me to higher ground when it’s all said and done.
And yeah, I walk away with a lot of scars, and legs burning – but those scars etch something far more meaningful into my soul than on my skin. I learn to appreciate what’s really important in life.
God bless, one and all. May you find understanding in the great mystery of those timeless, inescapable words “he who loses his life, will find it” – scratches and all.