Solitude, Community, and the World
I always have great intentions when I begin a Lenten practice. I plan, I ponder, I propose this practice and that to myself, working hard to work out within myself what it is that I need to work on that will help me to grow and mature in my relationship with God.
I. I plan, I ponder, I propose. It’s always about me. And then when things don’t pan out in the way I planned, in the way that I pondered, and in the way I proposed, I am disappointed.
This time around I decided to change things up and try something new for the Lenten season. I decided to try a dozen or so different practices and disciplines — to try them out, toss them against the wall and see what sticks, what works, what leads me into the change I so desire.
I decided. I didn’t listen, I didn’t ask, I didn’t consult God in any prayerful, listening way. It was just me and me alone, trying to work out what I thought would be the best course, the best way, the most useful challenge.
Today I stand in the middle of Embertide. Embertide is observed four times a year. They are days of prayer and retreat, observed on a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. At the end of Embertide I am expected to write to my pastoral leader (an appointed Sister) and let her know how my spiritual journey is going.
Yesterday was my first day of Embertide (also known as Ember Days). Did I have a plan? Of course I did. But that didn’t work out. That’s the problem with plans, they rarely work out the way we think they should. I was all set for feeling all holy and whatnot for these three days — sitting in silence and stitching prayers into fabric or listening to sacred chants and painting love into the face of an angel icon.
What did I do instead? I felt an incredible urge to drive to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to join the Wednesday bird walk and see the owlets. Come rain or come shine, Ember Days or no Ember Days, I was going. I puzzled at myself over the very idea of it for a little while, but gave in to the compulsion and went.
Here I was, a postulant on Embertide, going out into the world and enjoying a walk in nature and satisfying my own recreational needs, instead of staying home to fast and pray and be all holy and stuff. I rolled my eyes at my own silly self, but I went. The feeling was THAT strong inside me. I needed to go. I had to go. I had no idea I was actually listening to someone or something other than my own self, my own ideas, my own plans. I thought I was being selfish, but I gave in to the selfishness. I surrendered to my failure.
It was a great trip. The sky could have been brighter (it wasn’t a great day for photographing beautifully colored birds) and it could have been warmer. I saw a Great Horned Owlet, one of its parents, and I also added a Fox Sparrow to my life list of birds.
But it wasn’t until near the end of the trip that I discovered my reason for being there — it was to meet J.C.
No, not Jesus Christ (or was he?), it was a young man. Born in Puerto Rico, living here now, a sophomore in high school, but taking courses online because “I was bullied too much at school,” he told me. He has been walking on Wednesdays with the birding group since March of last year and gets a ride from one of the leaders of the group (named Shep, by the way, how’s THAT for an interesting coincidence?!), and has since developed a strong interest in ornithology.
Somehow he and I became separated from the group and walked the boardwalk through the estuary for a while alone together. He named a few birds for me that I couldn’t name for myself — Mew Gulls and Green-winged Teals — we watched a Bald Eagle unsuccessfully chase a duck around and about over the water, and we talked. We walked and talked together like old friends, comfortable in each other’s presence.
And now, as I type this, I realize that I DID meet Jesus in my walk at Nisqually. I went out into the World and met the Christ in the face of another fellow traveler. All of my plans for solitude and fasting and prayer went right out the window and in flew a journey of listening and a meeting of hearts in love with and enthusiastic about all Creation.
And as I stand between the days of Embertide, awaiting my next adventure, I am still making my own plans. In spite of the lesson I learned yesterday, I am still hoping to control the lesson I need to hear and the journey I need to take. BUT, there is a difference today. Today I feel more open to the leading of the Spirit and more willing to surrender to the leading of the Road and the Way.
And at least that’s progress. Right?
Thanks be to God.