This week I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the places I wanted to see while I was traveling in 2008 but missed because I had to cut my trip short. (If you read my book, 42 States of Grace: A Woman’s Journey, you understand why.) But I believe if there’s somewhere you’re SUPPOSED to be, you will get other opportunities. This is my third time here in the last four years, so I guess I really was supposed to visit here. But as with all things, I’ve come to accept that maybe I wasn’t ready to be here six years ago.
I’m here with 25 other students from among the 180 in the first cohort of the Living School for Action and Contemplation. We started Monday and it’s only Tuesday night and yet I feel as though I’ve been here for a very long time – but not in a bad way! There’s a sense of true belonging here – and acceptance – and I think that feeling of belonging will go back home with me to Oregon. This is a great gift since feeling like I belong has been a hard thing to come by in my life. Sitting with like-minded, seeking adults listening to Richard Rohr talk about spirituality, filling our thirsty hearts and souls, has already been a deeply moving and gratifying spiritual experience. And I still get to spend three more days this week and then come back again the next two Septembers!! I feel incredibly blessed and thankful!
As someone who usually brings a camera, I’m sad that I don’t have mine with me this time; I was trying to travel a little lighter. There is an amazing tree in the back yard of the Center for Action and Contemplation here. I believe it is a cottonwood. It has a huge trunk but what really fascinates me are the branches. I’m not sure if it was pruned this way or somehow grew naturally, but the branches -- which are also huge -- weave back and forth on each other, sometimes turning sharply 180 degrees, doubling back on themselves; sometimes curving in almost a full circle or abruptly spinning off in another direction. They feel like multiple arms reaching around to hug the tree and dancing for the joy of being here. With no leaves this time of year the silver bark is highlighted against the brilliant blue New Mexico sky, creating a magnificent piece of art. I am in awe of it.
While standing under the tree, gazing up and reflecting on it today, I was reminded of our spiritual journeys, our growth as spiritual creatures. Sometimes the direction we were going was aborted somehow. Some obstacle – material or emotional – has caused us to change direction. Maybe it was for good reasons -- perhaps a realization this wasn’t our right path right now; but maybe it was fear of no longer fitting in or losing something we weren't ready to let go of yet if we stayed on that particular trajectory. Maybe someone talked us out of it, and we listened. Maybe we just needed to turn back to the trunk (the heart) and get realigned. Touch base. Find safety. But then maybe we reach out again, possibly in a similar direction or maybe in a completely different direction. And we continue to grow where we are pulled. And in this growing and changing we can create a beautiful and unique masterpiece of imperfection that is us.
Today we talked about transformation and spiritual growth and the idea that great love and great suffering are often required before one can move to deeper levels of spiritual consciousness. Richard used as an example of great love the intense connection that passes between a mother and baby when the baby is first able to focus on her face as she nurses her infant. And it occurred to me, as a mother who nursed both her children and remembers well these 30-some years later that deep connection, that this is how God looks at each of us: with eyes that see how incredibly precious we are. May we learn to gaze back upon the face of God with the absolute trust and love that are in an infant’s eyes when he or she first stares into the mother’s face, the source of all contentment and happiness and joy, the absolute source of our life.