It was the sixth hour of the day when it finally dawned on me.
I am lost.
You know how – after traveling for what seems like a very long time through unfamiliar territory – and you suddenly come upon a place with familiar landmarks – and you realize you’ve been there before – and then it sinks in.
“I’ve been going round in circles.”
“I’m totally lost – without direction home.”
It was only when I stopped my rapid journeying towards the bright and ever-closer promises of spring – that I noticed – I didn’t have a clue where I was headed.
On my way back from celebrating my fiftieth birthday with my sister and her husband David and daughter Zoe, I took up her suggestion and booked a couple of nights at the Still Point House of Prayer. The Sisters of Saint Joseph, GOD bless them, host spiritual sojourners such as my self at their silent retreat centre in the Calabogie hills. Perched at a bottleneck in the Madawaska river where 100 years ago and more - logjams could be waylaid long enough to give their river drivers rest at the hospitality of the McCrae farm and guesthouse before the last leg down to the Ottawa river. Millions of squared timbers made their way into the Parliament buildings and great grand homes of the Ottawa gentry and beyond to the demands of an Empire that would grow forever stronger.
Was it that the demand for electricity became greater than the demands for lumber? Or was it that the forests were exhausted of timber? Hydro dams on the swift Madawaska made the river un-passable – and the McCrae farm became as quiet as the ghosts of Springtown’s heyday.
But when commerce disappears, churches and their graveyards remain. The farmhouse was resurrected as a place of rest – as it always had been – and of prayer. You might think loggers and GOD seekers to be odd company in the same place, but men who risk such dangerous work tend to be – in my acquaintance – as deeply religious as they are rough and ready on the surface. Their manners spill and spit, and crude talk tumbles out like white water rapids – but their hearts are as deep and full as the cold dark waters that slow at Still Point.
I rested my butt on a rock by the waters and watched the sun melt patches of snow into puddles on the blue ice. (just a little more exciting than watching grass grow)
How many days was that blanket of cloud
keeping us snug in our heads?
Finally – it’s started
Spring’s swept away the slumber
to reveal the untouchable blue
of Mother Mary’s veil
A few small clouds hug the horizon.
Without wind they wait
Beside the ribbon of ashphalt where cars sail by
black river snakes icy deep
-who look down in -
of fathomless dark space up beyond the veil
where stars poke holes in eternity
Deer stroll the far shore
coming to see if today’s strong spring sun
has called forth Saint David’s first leeks?
Still not yet.
Heading back, they stop and look up
- to see if I’ve found any on my side?
The universe runs deep between us
- a crack in the absence of time -
under the pale blue sky
we are held together
Still Point House of Prayer
March 2nd, 2010
Sister Betty tells me, as we sit in her study, of Joseph’s strong, quiet, unobtrusive ways of answering prayer. As a father myself, I soak in his patience and slow, skilled, labours – crafting home, furniture, tools from trees.
Betty suggests - gently – like a leaf falling onto my confessed confusion – that perhaps I’m in a fog? Is my way ahead obscured by the mystery of new life still deep beneath the ground. It’s energy is rising and causing excitement and fear within my soul. My heart leaps with the promise of new adventure. But, as I tell her, I cannot frame what the question is?
How can I pursue the answer if I’m not even sure of what’s at question?
And so, after walking the riverside, sleeping midday, sitting still again by the river – letting otter and hawk search the highs and lows while I just watch – in the dark of the next morning - it comes. Like a burp before breakfast. An empty stomach’s message. I get it.
I don’t have a clue where I’m going.
There are so many directions that interest me. Each and every way I turn, I see the paths behind each open door and they all beckon with promise and impossibilities.
And I am saddened too. Doors have closed behind me. They are shut and locked against any return. As much as I might pound angrily against them – they will not open again. And I am saddened by the end of those pathways. I’ve traveled far and well upon them and they’ve made me who I stand here to be.
But like the river, I can’t just be. I can only flow one way – becoming – what the LORD’s will and my imagination – or is it the LORD’s imagination and my will - might come up with next.
What is the question?
What is the next quest?
Today I take another careful step into the great blue yonder. Who really knows? Does GOD know? How boring for GOD if she does. Who can tell which companions, what help might come, what unforeseen obstacles will erupt, what unexpected powers might prevail, what the alleycat might do next?
What will you do next? What decision have you been putting off? What adventure lurks behind the high stone wall of what you’ve come to accept as possible? What prison have you created for the wild soul within you? That same soul that responds today to the hope of spring as new life emerges under your feet and your loins recall what your broken heart won’t forget and your mind comes clear from the fog and sees the impossible, untouchable, beckoning blue sky again.
GOD asks “what way shall we go?”