I recently spent a couple of days away from my cellphone, Facebook, email, and television. I can’t take complete credit for this media fast, since my cellphone wouldn’t work and there wasn’t a television where I stayed. The Sabbath from “Morning Joe” and “Hardball,” from texting and emailing, and from memes and rants was a gift.
I watched the sun rise over the mountains, listened to the birds sing their joy over the dawning, heard the dancing rhythm of a swiftly-flowing mountain stream, and felt my heart leap in the direction of hope.
I was in a secluded place near Bryson City, NC, a place where, over many years, I’ve often retreated with friends. It’s resonant with laughter, tears, discovery, difficulty, and delight. On that high hill, I’ve experienced the mutuality of kindred spirits, the faithful and sometimes painful hearing and speaking of truth-in-love, and the encouragement of fellow-pilgrims on a long journey.
This time, three of us had come to the mountain to write.
My writing was an excavation of a home-site where I once lived, a clearing away of waste and debris. My pen was a shovel; my journal was a wheelbarrow.
Some of the weeds had been growing for a long time; their roots were in shame. They were toxic—a poison ivy of the spirit. I had to be careful not to expose myself to reinfection as I removed them. It was slow and hard work.
There were discarded containers which had once held my vocation and some rotting clothes worn in former roles.
There were a few boxes of old sermons, yellowed by the years. I scanned a few of them and sensed how much more I thought I knew then than I know now. The mystery continues to deepen.
Scattered across the site were recognitions, certificates, and diplomas. There were trophies from adolescent athletics and plaques from a career in the church. They had once served to confirm and bolster my shaky identity.
And, there were rusted regrets, shards of shattered dreams, and piles of moldy mistakes.
There were treasures, too: pictures of loved ones, encouraging notes from teachers, a few children’s books, and letters of gratitude from people who, if they only knew, gave me more than I ever gave them.
My hope is to build a new dwelling on this old-new place, this remembered and anticipated terrain of the spirit. Whatever it was that T.S. Eliot meant in “Little Gidding,” I recognize something of my own journey in these words:
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
Calling . . .
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
“The place” is my life. I’m excavating my experience; and, as I clear it, I am seeing it as if for the first time.
On it and of it, I’m building a shelter in which to dwell for what remains of my one and only life.