This is an “archive” story that I wrote several years ago, reflecting back to the last days of summer during a time of transition in my life. I write often these days on my blog about my current expressions of faith which reflect progressive, liturgical Christianity. This story is from an earlier time where I was deeply spiritual but not religious. I didn’t write as regularly then as I do now, but I did still occasionally put pen to paper to capture a moment. I am glad this was an experience I chose to capture, as I took in the spirituality I saw all around me.
I thought about this story this evening as a cool breeze blew in my window, and another grouping of my moonflowers emerged into full bloom. Its just that time of year for me, when my spirit stirs in response to something both beyond, and within. I see light…and God…in these moments. And, I still journey through my life carried on the wings of Spirit. For all of this, and all my journey, I am grateful…
Last Trip to Lilydale
A clear, crisp autumn wind whipped through the curtains of my bedroom that Saturday morning before Labor Day. I woke up with the sense of freedom that a three day weekend offers, and the sense of anticipation building around me. Perhaps it was a cyclical reminder of the coming semester of teaching, or perhaps it was ushering in a greater season of transition beyond my conscious awareness. But it was uncanny, that feeling, and the air that drifted through my windows brought with it a beckoning to the one place where my restless spirit yearned to go. And so it was, that Saturday morning, that I got in my car and set off for Lilydale.
Lilydale calls itself “the town that time forgot.” A small, quaint village formed at the side of a lake by turn-of-the-century Spiritualist believers, “The Dale” now boasted a small but loyal following of modern-day mediums, psychics, faith-healers and those of the mind-body-spirit connection type seeking respite from the dictates of modern living. The buildings, the customs, the stories, the family names of Lilydale had not shifted with the passage of time, and many of the properties hadn’t seen much upkeep through the decades, either. When “in season” the once quaint houses and cottages abandoned and weather-beaten during the harsh lake winters became summer residences of spiritualist leaders, brought back to life by the soft sounds of wind-chimes and the cadence of strolling cats and dogs who wandered freely on the small, quiet roads alongside its residents and visitors. Lilydale was not a psychic fair for the curious skeptic; it was the summer retreat of true believers and those who wished to visit them. There were no road signs or advertisements; those who wanted to find Lilydale simply knew how to get there.
On this particular morning, Lilydale was the only place where I wanted to be. As I drove the southern tier section of the New York Thruway, I called into my awareness the many people who I had loved, and lost. Several had made contact with me during previous trips to Lilydale, in both subtle and quite noticeable ways. During retreat season, the faithful would gather at “the Stump” for an open prayer service in the morning and afternoon. Since spiritualist prayer and practice involves clairvoyant contact with those who have departed the physical world, visitors could attend in the hopes of receiving messages that the faithful felt needed to be conveyed by the spirits present. The messages of this sort I had received while visiting Lilydale still resonated in my soul like a wrapped gift that I treasured in moments of fear or discouragement. I unwrapped each one in my mind during the drive, experiencing that connection as part of my journey.
When I arrived, I characteristically parked on the edge of town and picked up my art supplies along with my journal. I passed by “the Stump” already packed with visitors awaiting messages, heading instead for my favorite drawing location. It was windy and cold by the water’s edge where I liked to sit and draw on an old wooden pier under which spread the characteristic wildness of decades-old water lilies that were the town’s namesake. I drew wildly that morning, like I imagined a state of artistic madness might feel like. The lake-side willow tree that was the source of my sketching seemed to grow more and more frantic. My charcoal raced to keep up and I was entirely lost in the passionate mayhem of nature and art.
“What are you drawing?”
I probably would have jumped out of my skin anywhere else, but in the moment at the Dale I simply answered as I drew “The trees. Or maybe me. I feel like they feel.”
“They look angry, no?”
“No. Not angry. Blown. Out of control. They are attached to the tree but seem to be trying to fly.”
“Perhaps they should fly; leaves can do that. Perhaps you could, too, if you tried”
It occurred to me to turn around and see who had come out on the pier with me, who was giving me this unsolicited artistic interpretation and life coaching. But, there was no one of this world within eyesight. The wind slowed down, and I stepped back to see the chaos of my drawing reflecting the chaos of my spirit. I decided to walk back into the company of the faithful. Obviously, there was a message I needed to hear.
I walked several paths throughout the town, the woods surrounding it, and the clearing by “the stump” where some visitors still sat talking about the recently completed service and messages from beyond that either rang true, or had left them puzzled. I walked through the small pet cemetery where the four-legged inhabitants of Lilydale came to rest their earthly lives surrounded by small stones, markers and other messages reverently placed. I continued my stroll through dense woods of enormous trees until I came to the Forest Temple, a small wood-framed church that was the original constructed place of worship for Lilydale’s founders. Inside, beginning in a few minutes, was the afternoon healing service.
It is noteworthy that many visitors are drawn to Lilydale to find healing of body and mind or to gain specific contact with a departed loved one. I had been to Lilydale for both of those reasons over the years. Today, I was at peace with those aspects of my past, but at discontent with my own complacency, my sense of having limited myself by seemingly irrevocable life choices. So, I waited in the church, praying silently, until one of the healers came and touched my shoulder, asking with the characteristic greeting “May I come to you?” The energy in the small wood-framed building was high, the only sound the whispered and comforting words of the healers and quiet descriptions of the needs of those seeking. Those unfamiliar with reiki were given a brief explanation about spiritual energy and chakras and other mysteries with which I was reasonably well acquainted but at these moments, preferred to keep my knowledge to myself. Humility is what is needed, not arrogance, when one truly seeks to understand one’s own humanity. So, I listened with inner and outer voice to this cadence of explanation and speech from the woman healer whose hands were placed at that moment just over the top of my head, tracing the energy from my head down towards my shoulders. And then she stopped. Reiki involves no physical touch, so she asked permission to make contact with my hair. Which I granted.
“This is yours”
She stated this quietly, as she removed a small willow-tree leaf from the tangled curls of my hair.
“I’m told you’ll understand what it means.”
I nodded that yes, I understood. I understood perfectly
“Be well, then. Remember in your journey that you are never alone. Have a blessed life.”
Her words felt final, yet utterly reassuring. I thanked her and left quietly, holding the leaf in my hand.
The rest of that day at Lilydale I simply walked. Wandered. Allowed myself to simply be a part of my past, my present, and my yet to emerge future. I felt freed, disconnected from what had been limiting me. I made no plans, received no messages foretelling my future, had no inkling of the direction of my journey. I simply believed that when given a chance to fly, I would.
Lilydale’s 101st season closed that Labor day weekend, 1999. By the time the town reopened the following June, I would be living in St. Louis and taking the first steps into an entirely new chapter of my life. I would have opportunities unfold at rapid-fire pace and make decisions with my heart, my head, and my spirit without fear, without regret. I still am. That was, indeed, my last regular seasonal trip to Lilydale. But the journey still goes on.