I don’t cry often, but I do at times. My family knows I cry during sad movies. But during my pilgrimage last year, what I didn’t expect was how tearful I was every day for a week. Yet these were not tears of sadness; they were tears of excitement, praise and joy. The $2 travel mug I thought our daughter would like I ended up keeping for myself, because its message described how I felt all week; like one “hot mess.” It actually made me laugh because I didn’t understand what was happening to me. Nothing bad, just puzzling.
August 29, 2017: Rainy morning. Hiked up Lookout Mountain in NC. Trail a bit slippery. Held onto rock, saying under my breath, “Lord, you are my stronghold.” Met Ellen (liturgical artist) for lunch; shared stories of faith. Here is how I spoke of her in my journal after we first met in June 2017: “Ellen’s home is full of her creative spirit. Yet my experience there was deeper. We just talked for 10 minutes, yet in that brief time I felt a deep spiritual connection…as if we are kindred spirits. I told her I hope our paths cross again some day. During the journey home and after returning to work, I kept thinking of how we might reconnect since it felt as if God was at work. It just dawned on me that maybe we could collaborate on the prayer room for General Assembly in June 2018. I’m very excited about this possibility! I will pray about it.” Note: This prayer came to fruition. Ellen stayed at our home several times this past year, as she was the artist chosen to design and help create a banner and table covers for the large assembly of Presbyterians this past June. We worked together on the labyrinth and the prayer room. And hoping to hear her story is part of the reason I drove 1000 miles to NC on my pilgrimage last August.
After lunch with Ellen, I met for spiritual direction with Elizabeth Canham, retired Episcopal priest and author of Heart Whispers and Finding Your Voice in the Psalms. After hearing my story, she said it should be told. I showed her my journal entry from 2010, where I quoted her: “Discovering the artist within ourselves is a natural response to being immersed in love for creation and the Creator…Our creativity will become our prayer, born of simple attention to what is around us.”
Looking back, I wonder if I was such a “hot mess” because I hadn’t been allowing enough time to be present with God. But this week, giving my full attention to God, I felt such joy it had to be expressed. I don’t exactly know why I traveled all the places I did. I was just drawn to go. It is something impossible to articulate in the spoken or written language. A few months after returning home, I read something which very closely resembled my experience. It was such a beautiful discovery. I remember excitedly thinking, “Someone else has had this experience!”
When the joyful enthusiasm which seizes you as you read or hear about contemplation is really the touch of God calling you to a higher level of grace,…so abounding will that joy be that it will follow you to bed at night and rise with you in the morning. It will pursue you through the day in everything you do…The joy and the desire will seem to be part of each other…though you will be at a loss to say just what it is that you long for. Your whole self will be transformed; your face will shine with an inner beauty; and for as long as you feel it, nothing will sadden you. A thousand miles would you run to speak with another who you knew really felt it, and yet when you got there, find yourself speechless. And yet your only joy would be to speak of it…words fruitful, and filled with fire. – from the fourteenth-century spiritual classic “The Book of Privy Counseling”, author unknown