Willow Wonderings

summer of wonders

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What a wonder of a summer it has been.

The past twelve weeks have been a journey of cliff jumping and cross-country flying, finding a new name in the desert and eating new desserts (thank goodness for healing!), playing with two year olds and praying in gardens. Milking goats, howling at full moons, skinny dipping, weeding and picking berries, painting watercolors, swimming under waterfalls, napping in hammocks, watching shooting stars with loved ones, worshipping with a view of the mountains, singing and shouting and praising all day long.

I come home with a renewed heart for God, and I am forever grateful.

We live our lives in circles; we learn over and over again the same lesson from a new angle in an interwoven web of grace. This summer, I learned from nature and companions that I need to relax, let go and live from the soul. The deer found me to remind me to be gentle with myself; like the babbling creek winds her way through the mountains, God calls me to live in the flow. To be still and breathe deeply. In this sink-or-swim world we live in, I finally let myself float and let the current guide my way.

For ten weeks, we worked incredibly hard, and some days felt like an eternity. We painted churches, took kids up sand cliffs to watch the sunset, performed in talent shows, played kickball and tag in the desert heat. I went days without showering and dirt caked to my feet. My refuge this summer has been keeping my eyes and heart open, listening to God in moments of challenge and incredible beauty. I’ve never felt so exhausted and exhilarated than when I left the ranch. And through it all, I tasted the sweet fruits of community and intimacy and bread and poetry – and let seeds of playfulness ripen within me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a [woman] remains in me and I in [her], [she] will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers’ such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned.” – John 15:5-6

With isolation in the desert comes a humbling realization of how addicted we are to everyday communication and technology. Some days I felt lost without something to distract my attention and constantly bombard my mind. As much as I love silence, I find it challenging to just be still as I felt vines clawing for my attention: things to do, letters to write, questions for the future.

A pattern appeared this summer that I have known from a young age stems from insecurity: I try to prove my worth as I overwork myself. Such is the culture at Davidson sometimes, but I no longer find it healthy to work myself to death. I spent much of my energy this year preoccupied about what others thought of me and how I could earn their love. Parallel to a works-based theology, I used to believe that God judges our actions according to how well we conform to Christian standards of identity. I felt a tremendous relief when I let go of some responsibility for the fall and no longer worried about labels and achievements. The desert pruned me of a hurtful theology and false identity that I am relieved to leave behind.

As I lived in intentional community this summer, I learned that true love is unconditional. It cannot be earned or proven; it is freely given and freely received as a gift. Our task is simply to open ourselves, knowing we are all empty, and God’s will is for us to be filled and live freely. Friends – and children – helped me this summer to rediscover my youthful energy, my free-spirited and independent mind that finds beauty in everything. I learned to communicate honestly, set boundaries while honoring others’ needs and my own sensitivity. I realized how deeply connected our journeys truly are. I find myself sleeping more soundly now that I feel more connected to reality, and to my truest essence.

Sitting around campfires this summer, the fire purified my words as I learned that stories are our medicine. Sharing our deepest truths invites God to work in unforeseen ways. When I shared the story of my childhood with a mentor who works as a pastor in mental health, we spoke about how God heals us with nature’s beauty. We spoke about rainbows as a sign of God’s covenant with all beings, and how it takes our breath away to see the light of the heavens meet the waters of the earth with vibrant colors. We spoke about the living waters in the desert and how it restores our souls to see the storms at work. That night, as I did yoga with friends at sunset, we turned around to face the sun going down. As we gazed at the red-orange desert sky, a double rainbow appeared as if God were smiling at us, giving us hope in the abounding Light as we prepared to leave that sacred land. Stories remind me that our only task is to point our finger to the magic already happening, and to give our lives to what our hearts are speaking.

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What did the desert speak? Day by day, omens presented themselves in hummingbirds, rainstorms,  friends’ words and scripture’s truths. I read The Alchemist, a story about a young boy who travels through the desert, to discover that his gold is in his homeland, and in his relationships. The alchemist in the story turns metals into gold – just as Jesus transforms our pruned branches into fruit. As we attune to the alchemy happening within us, we hear the great story being written: how God speaks through every one of us. We do not need to look anywhere else to find peace.

At times I feel incredibly sad to leave behind this summer, but I know that the community and the memories are still present. The red rock canyons, the mesa cliffs, the great blue skies and shining moon are well and alive in my bones. I found a home within simple moments of connection and I was found as a wandering pilgrim in the desert, and God’s grace continues to shine light on the path before me, one step at a time.

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Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “I live my life in widening circles.” As I returned to the west coast after my time at the ranch, I felt another circle become complete. I went to the places that I loved at Pearson and finally felt alive, healed, and forgiven for the struggles of those two years. I realized that life goes on after we leave. I reconnected with best friends and my loving host parents before transitioning back east. And I went on adventures – from diving in the ocean alone to getting my nose pierced with moonstone (it’s a healing stone for feminine yin energy, attuned to lunar cycles according to yogis). I know that I am crazy sometimes, but I’m enjoying being twenty.

Now, I am about an hour away from landing in Charlotte, and I can already feel my body preparing for the months of a new semester to come. I don’t know how much homework I will have, or what it will be like to have many of my friends gone abroad. But I do know that the mountains of North Carolina, and dance parties, and new friends, and exciting reading in theology is to come. My deepest prayer is to live in a sacred balance this semester – knowing there is a season for everything, including work and play, rest and strenuous activity, social time and solitude, vision and humility, adventure and serenity (inspired by my dear friends Mallika and Jessie for their wisdom). I anticipate a struggle to adjust back to campus life, and I know that Davidson schedules and academics will not be easy. In the meantime, I’m incredible grateful to return to friends and to be back home on campus. Here’s to simple joys, to trusting God, to being truly happy. I’m thinking about going abroad for the next term, so we’ll see where this path leads! (I promise I’m not intending for this post to rhyme)

As you find your way to this late summer, what is your heart speaking? What does this full moon bring as you think of your deepest longings? May you find peace and a home of belonging, wherever your journey may take you. Enjoy this prayer that carried me through the summer.

 Earth mother, star mother,

You who are called by

A thousand names,

May all remember

We are cells in your body

And dance together

You are the grain

And the loaf

That sustains each day,

And as you are patient with our struggles to learn

So shall we be patient

With ourselves and each other.

We are radiant light

And sacred dark –the balance—

You are the embrace that heartens

And the freedom beyond fear.

Within you we are born

We grow, live, and die—

You bring us around the circle

To rebirth,

Within us you dance

Forever. – Starhawk

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3 thoughts on “summer of wonders

  1. Beautiful, Willow. We do live our world in widening circles. Thanks for sharing you circle, your wisdom.

  2. Love this, Elizabeth! Prayers for you as you return for sophomore year. 🙂

  3. Blessed Willow: Great to savor your thoughts and reflections about Ghost Ranch. I, too, find the desert refreshing, life-giving, illuminating, enlightening, empowering. My own blog has a recent post about Solitude. A very sacred aspect of the life of Spiritual Sojourners! Stay in touch, and may the blessings abound for you in the coming time of learning and growth.

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