I’ve come to realize that some places are deeply imprinted on my soul. Like a bird drawn to patterns of seasonal migration, there is a sort of homing beacon that prompts me to go, just go to particular places at particular times. At another point in my life…and I admit that at times, even now…I wonder if there is something great and mighty destined to happen when I arrive, as if that inner beckoning foretells a moment where all I am capable of being will be actualized by some major event. I don’t actually believe it works that way, but the temptation exists get pulled into that fantastical movie script. The reality is, when I listen and I am present to draw near to those proximal places that call me, something is always there to greet me. But, usually, it is not at all what I am expecting.
Yesterday, the pull in my soul was put myself in proximity with one of my favorite local places, Richmond Hill. This former convent, now ecumenical retreat center sits on a hill, at the very top point of the City of Richmond. It is the place of my discernment, the space where I am met exactly as I am and aligned with where I am meant to be. I had no logical reason to be there yesterday…I was unable to make the times of scheduled morning, noon or evening prayer as I sometimes do. I didn’t have an appointment to meet with someone, and there were no special events scheduled. I was almost deterred from going when there was a posted thunderstorm warning (the kind that comes to my email inbox with red exclamation points) that didn’t bode well for the afternoon. But, the homing beacon was activated, and so I went.
The wind was already gusting when I arrived. After being buzzed in, I asked if I could walk the labyrinth and was met with a loving, “of course, just don’t get blown away!” I laughed a little, although realizing that it was probably part of the reason to be in that particular space, on this particular day. There is something powerfully redemptive about being wind blown. I made my way to the labyrinth, stepping through the garden paths amid the just-post-winter, not-yet-fully-spring piles of brown leaves and made my way down stone stairs. No one was there that day, and the sense of solitude was palpable. The wind was blowing wildly at this point, and I was caught up in the imagery and experience of the Winds of Spirit as I walked each step in prayer. Whether my imagination or the timing of serendipity, I felt as if the strength of the wind in the center of that labyrinth walk might actually carry me off this earth.
Winding back through the labyrinth, my feet planted me on earth step by step. I circled back through the paths of the garden, carrying with me a calm stability which lingered in spite of winds and looming storms. My walk back was an entirely new experience. I now saw every emerging bud on every tree, colors beginning to form under winter’s brown, frost-bitten foliage. How much had I failed to notice in my journey to get where I thought I was going? Mid-way through the garden, I stopped in my tracks at the sight of a flower that grew and bloomed in the midst of the stone steps I had walked down without a glance earlier. One small, white flower was growing through a gap in the stone, seemingly oblivious that all around was rocky and barren. She had found her place. She had put down her roots. She bloomed in a simple yet magnificent beauty.
Now I am left ponder the gifts of drawing near, and being present. Not for the emergence of the grand, but just so that flower and I could meet, and exchange the silent knowledge that we each had come to know about finding our place, in proximity with each other.
Holy One, with gratitude we find our place in You.
For further reflection: The Place I Want To Get Back To by Mary Oliver
The place I want to get back to
in the pinewoods
in the moments between
and first light
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me
they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let’s see who she is
and why she is sitting
on the ground like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;
and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way
I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward
and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
For twenty years
I have gone every day to the same woods,
not waiting, exactly, just lingering.
Such gifts, bestowed,
can’t be repeated.
If you want to talk about this
come to visit. I live in the house
near the corner, which I have named
Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006)