Whatever Path You Choose

“It was the longest I have ever been silent in my life.  I had trouble shutting out the distractions.”

“There is nothing between you and God.  There’s no place to hide.  It’s kind of scary, but God was there.”

“It was very different from being home alone.  Walking helped me to stay close to God.  But the best part was the journaling.”

“There is a difference between being alone and being lonely.  Being alone with God was an amazing experience.”

At a women’s retreat a few weeks ago, we were invited to “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  Two hours of solitude.  Hard to come by in a world where communication is available 24/7 and cellphones become a third appendage.  Yet, as Ecclesiastes 3:10 reminds us, there is “a time to keep silence and a time to speak.”

Our leader said, “John Wesley and our Methodist heritage tell us that spiritual practices are a means of grace.  Silence is the most challenging, the most needed and the least experienced spiritual practice.  We are a very busy and wordy faith tradition.  Yet we are starved for mystery, for intimacy, for rest and for quiet…  In silence we create space for God’s activity, rather than filling every bit of it with ourselves.”

“Can I just ask one question?” I asked her at the beginning of our time of solitude.  “May I borrow your bike?  I need to go somewhere, but it’s too far to walk.”  Eager to reflect on the state of my spiritual journey and let go of whatever is holding me back from claiming God’s grace and living a whole and healthy life, I adjust the seat of Susan’s bike, put on my helmet and take off.  As I ride, I sing to myself and to God.

Welcome to this circle where love and grace abound;
We honor your journey and wherever you are bound;
We will walk beside you, encourage you on your way;
Celebrate your spirit and hold you as we pray.
There is love for one like you;
There is grace enough to see you through;
And wherever you have walked, whatever path you choose
May you know there is love for one like you.

Listen here.

I flash back to early that morning when I’m running along the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay in northern Michigan, one of the most gorgeous places in God’s world.  When I pass a sign on the left that says Villa Marquette, I notice several old white clapboard buildings with no apparent activity.  I wonder.

IMG_4598.JPG 1Then I glance to the right and see the sun directly aligned with a path through the woods to the water of West Bay.  It’s as if the trail is on fire.  I marvel and keep on going, but God beckons me to turn around.  I run down the path to the bay, reach the shore and gasp.  There, right in the sand, is a large cross made up of several hundred small stones and sticks for a border.

Standing on the dock, I repeat my morning prayer, “I rise from my bed of sleep to adore your holy name, to live for you this day, to work with you in the building of your kingdom and to find in you eternal life.  I consciously renew my calling as this day begins, thanking you for the privilege of living my life in this way.  I know that I need to take care of myself if I am to be of any use to those I am called to serve.  Grant me grace to walk in health and wholeness, but most of all, may I live this day knowing that I am your beloved.”

Could the cross at the dock be connected with whoever uses Villa Marquette?  Back in my room, I do some research and discover that Villa Marquette is a Jesuit Retreat Center where hundreds of priests from around the country gather for rest and relaxation in the summer along the shore of this beautiful bay.  What a gift, for priests need rest and renewal as much as other clergy.

Three hours later, I am back at this sacred spot on the bike.  I walk through Villa Marquette, silent and empty, imagining what it must be like for priests to have a place to retreat. Then I cross the road and spend the next hour sitting on the dock, reflecting on our retreat theme of Jesus as the vine and we humans as the branches.  Especially interested in spiritual disciplines as the basis for the pruning process, I begin a fearless self-examination.

I remember the words of Richard Rohr, “A good journey begins where we are and being willing to go somewhere else.”  Where have I been in my spiritual life, where am I now in my relationship with Jesus and how is God leading me into the future?  I sense God calling me to rest, be patient and simply trust.  I find the quiet center.

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After tidying up the stone cross, I walk the shoreline and gather rocks to make a cairn.  A cairn is a human-made stack of stones that often serves as a trail marker but can also have spiritual significance.  Cairns have become for me a sign of God’s presence on the journey.  I find a large flat rock as a foundation for my cairn, then add stones of varying shapes and sizes, including part of a ceramic door handle that has been polished by the wind and the waves.

I find the perfect flat stone and am just about to place it near the top of the cairn when I suddenly realize that it’s likely a fossil.  It looks like a brachiopod!  Sitting on the dock, holding the stone, I wonder why God directed me to this fossil.  I am amazed at the mystery and majesty of God’s creation, that perhaps millions of years ago this brachiopod was a living marine animal.

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Holding the gift of the fossil, I am taken back to my childhood.  What gave me life, joy and hope as an eleven-year-old?  It was being outside, collecting rocks, leaves and fossils and exploring God’s world.  I was turned on to geology by two sixth grade teachers who took us on summer field trips to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania to collect fossils.  As a result, I wanted to be a National Park Ranger as a kid.  Even when I was in college, I took geology as one of only a handful of non-music courses.

The gift of the cairn is for my Jesuit brothers.  “Take care of yourselves, my friends and partners in ministry.  Your calling is so important.  Remember that Jesus is your rock and your salvation.  Other people see God’s love in you, and we need you to be healthy.”

IMG_4615.JPG 4The gift of solitude is pure grace.  To stand apart from my life, even if for only two hours, changes my perspective.  Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time, I think about the churches I’ve served, the people who have graced me on my way and what the future holds.  As I write, I contemplate the cover of my journal, a Paul Bond work of art called A Hymn to the Summer of My Long Ago.  I acknowledge once again that nurturing our spiritual life is the foundation of the Christian faith.  I gently put the fossil in my pocket, climb on my borrowed bike and ride back to my life.

 

There is love for one like you;
There is grace enough to see you through;
And wherever you have walked, whatever path you choose
May you know there is love for one like you.

Blessings,
Laurie

6 thoughts on “Whatever Path You Choose

  1. Laurie, you captured the very essence of Silence and Solitude and the resulting journey was a powerful witness! Our cups runneth over!

  2. Thank you Laurie for your faithfulness in sharing your blog.
    This weeks message was a real confirmation for me take time to be silent before God. To ‘re energize so that we have something of value to give to others .
    Blessings
    Paul

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