Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Finding Walden Where You Are

I offer an excerpt from my paper for a Christian Poetry weekend course I recently took through the Spiritual Formation program of Columbia Seminary. The paper was to be about one’s own spiritual pilgrimage. 

Writing is my central spiritual discipline. Kathleen Norris considers writing her form of lectio divina. This is where and when and how I figure out the why and the who. The word “saunter” is believed to come from the practice of spiritual pilgrims meandering here and there on their way to holy sites, and that’s what I do, in words, hoping that I might happen onto a sacred place or two in the process, perhaps encounter God, or the Word made flesh, or the Spirit’s pentecostal gift.

I do not outline beforehand, I do not “plan” the outcome, but “wait for the Lord” and the serendipitous gifts of water from rock, manna from sky, quails overhead, a still, small voice or “the sound of sheer silence,” the providential beauty of lilies, the promised land and commonwealth of God, the birthpangs of all creation.

Like Emily Dickinson, I don’t need to go somewhere to witness these wonders—I experience them in my room, in my case, a tiny office off the garage with a window to see outside. I identify with Mary Oliver’s reaction to friends suggesting she visit Walden, in her poem of that name.  I checked Mapquest and found she lives just three hours from Thoreau’s paradise, the transcendentalist prophet whom Oliver characterizes:

They do not hear that far-off Yankee whisper:
How dull we grow from hurrying here and there!

She resists making the trip, realizing she can do so in her imagination, reminded by his book of that name:

Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a green visit. It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are.

I understand her resistance to friends’ suggestions she go there, because some of my friends have suggested I visit the monastery in nearby Conyers, when indeed, I live in some ways a more monastic lifestyle than if I had been a monk! Such is the life of the writer, the self-employed, those who work from home. 

And besides, as I tell those attending my workshops and retreats, the “trick” is finding Walden “where you are,” finding the contemplative life within one’s own space and schedule and work.

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  1. I think i allowed myself permission to validate such personal times until the "gift of tongues" was in my life. I somehow was allowed to think that if i did not believe it was from and out of my mind--then it was a sign i had escaped my own monkey brain like whirlwind thoughts. It helped me trust that i could arrive at that quieter less distracted place and relax and be aware. Thanks, Chris for being.

  2. As always, a delightful post. I have to say, though, that I LOVE the monastery in Conyers. Over the years I've been to a number of retreats there...including the yearly "Intensive" that Contemplative Outreach offers (no, I don't go yearly, but I've been). The gift shop is delightful, and the Bonzai greenhouse is remarkable. Their newly-opened Monastic Heritage Center fascinating (can you visualize a barn with stained-glass windows?). And of course there's the lake. I'll tag my album on FB to you.

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