In the past long and ever-transforming week, I am amazed to see how God speaks in simple moments.
From starting new classes and trying to plan for travels abroad, answer e-mails, complete assigned readings and begin semester projects again, I wanted to know the future and how everything would come to be okay. I felt butterflies of the anxious variety as I faced the infinite life choices before me. I wanted a way to escape, to go abroad, to find a space where I could connect to God and be my real self. Becoming more and more weighed down in a fog of stress, I decided to go to spiritual direction.
Within minutes of talking to my chaplain, I was in tears. I felt an enormous release in the quietness of his office. I realized how I had been spending my time on campus constantly running from one place to the next to figure out my plans; even when I prayed, I was trying to get somewhere. I put into words how I longed for the freedom of desert wilderness when, in contrast, Davidson feels incredibly confining at times. I realized that in the midst of this four-year experience at an institution of power, prestige, and opportunity, I try so hard to fit in and control how I am perceived. It’s so easy to feel lost in a world so focused on achieving. That morning, I spoke aloud my deepest fear of being abandoned by God for making a wrong choice in my busy and wearisome days. Finally staring my fears in the face opened me to see the truth of the Light with new eyes.
That afternoon, I went for a walk. I prayed to be led to a place away from the busy atmosphere of campus and I found myself in the middle of a neighborhood at a stream! It felt like a familiar homecoming after my many encounters with water in the summer season. As I poured the waters over my forehead, I heard it singing – encouraging me to be real. No matter what it takes, the Spirit of the water spoke, lose the falsehood of fear. Like a branch on the eternal vine, let yourself be pruned to live in the truth. You need not seek any longer for accomplishments, to avoid your fear of abandonment. Keep walking in trust of God’s accompaniment.
I kept walking only to find many butterflies surrounding me – one of my lifelong favorite animals.
The butterfly is the symbol of transformation. According to nature-based spirituality, the butterfly awakens us to find pure joy in the tension of uncertain moments of life’s continuous unfolding. Rebirth, lightness of being, and renewal all spoke to me in the sweet insect’s wings. As my chaplain from Ghost Ranch, Marissa, reminded me, scripture reveals that God not only transforms us to be different; God transfigures us to become ever-more real and beautiful. Like an infant in the womb or a caterpillar emerging from the cocoon, God re-creates us continually, moment to moment, to fly and be free. It turns out that along with streams, tiny creatures, too, speak the language of God.
The week continued, and I started to feel more at peace with being here. A sweet joy swept over me on Thursday evening as I wrote poetry listened to friends play music. Then, my dear friend and soul-sister Katie came to visit for the weekend and “kidnapped” me for delightful adventures. We shared crepes and tea and bountiful poems, stories, and walks in the woods. We went with friends to Charlotte for a Friday night mindfulness-and-sushi date. We spent four hours cooking and sharing dinner with a new friend, Kaela, sharing small-world stories of crazy coincidences. With our dear friend Rachel, we went swimming late at night under moonlight at a lake, and laughed and laughed at our foolish selves being terrified by the sound of a goose above the water. Times of soulful intimacy and delight reminded me why I am here: to learn, to love others and share moments of beauty. To eat oreos on a Friday night with my best friend, to have heart-to-hearts with my roommate before bed, to see God at the heart of every moment. Even the chaotic and overwhelming moments of work, God is alive and with us.
As I reflect on the week ahead, I feel that I am in a transition state – leaving behind the summer energy and entering a new season of fall. I’m finding ways to integrate my playful adventurousness with studious work to be done. As the Spirit continually molds and transforms my soul, I pray to be open to the life I am living right here. I have to remember that I don’t need to go anywhere, but like the butterfly follows as the wind blows, our hearts know the way to Truth. As times of beauty and sorrow come and go, I pray:
God, help us to be okay with being alone. to let God in, and let go of control. to be humbled, and grateful, as each season of life unfolds.
Saying goodbye to the summer, Katie and I realized we both fell in love with this poem by Mary Oliver, entitled Wild Geese:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
So tell me, as you swim in the lake late at night and you hear the goose calling you from above, who are you becoming? What does the soft animal of your body love? And what transformation is this season’s imagination bringing?
Peace of the flowing stream to you as you enter this week. With love, and wild geese!