I am on a pilgrimage this week, a spiritual quest back to the holy places of my youth. This is the place that was calling to me, that I needed to be, to make spiritual leaps and bounds.
It has been 24 years since I have physically been in this sacred place, and what a long time in coming it has been. It should be no surprise that my forgiveness journey has led me here, or that my parents have made it possible.
Last year, when I got into counseling to begin the hard work of making this forgiveness journey, my counselor suggested that I commit an act of release. He suggested something physical to which I could give body and voice action. I purchased a set of old, ugly dishes in the thrift store with the thought that I might find a place to throw and smash the dishes, but I never found the place or the time. When I considered what might be holding me back from this physical display, it was apparent to me that it wouldn’t and couldn’t work because it wasn’t something that came naturally to me. I’m not inclined to release past aggression in such a physical way. I might yell and scream in the moment, but it’s not something I can summon later on, nor is it something I really wanted to do.
When I deal with deeply spiritual issues, I need to be in a safe place, a holy place and there are several that I have been privileged to experience. It just so happens that my parents planned a family trip to one of them this summer as a way to bring together three generations and to introduce my children to the ocean for the first time on the every same beach where I was first introduced to the ocean. We are beach people. My parents were raised near the ocean in their home country, so it has a natural draw for us. We also enjoy mountains, gentle rolling hills and valleys like the Appalachians.
My heart is tuned to water, so naturally, I am drawn to it and experience God in profound and deep ways by it. A clear, starlit sky completes the canvas of my holiest scene. Abraham lived in the desert, and just like him experiencing God at the edge of the desert under a starlit sky, I draw close to God and God draws close to me at the edge of the sea, under a starlit sky with the wind and the waves.
We went to the beach at midday. While everyone else went out in the water, I stayed on my towel at the edge of the wet sand. I watched as they played in the surf, bounding up and down with the flow of the receding tide. Crowds of people were enjoying the day: parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, young adults, single people, couples, all around me. While it was beautiful and enjoyable, I found it difficult to fully connect with God…kind of like trying to have a worship service in Grand Central Station at rush hour- everything was there, but the mood and focus were all wrong. After a while, we left for lunch and sightseeing. The time was not yet right.
We went back to the retreat center to have a late afternoon rest. Seizing the opportunity, I grabbed the camera and headed out for a walk. Having so many memories tied to this place, it was a true walk down memory lane. In each direction of my view were echoes of the first 18 years of my life: family vacations and youth assemblies, old friends, mentors, and early leadership experiences spoke to me through the buildings, trees, Spanish moss, pathways, pier and gazebo. By visiting the past, I was recovering my soul song.
I took pictures, an effort to recapture those windows to an earlier season; a spark to a memory, a clue of who I was, am, will be. The chapel where my best friend Jackie and I planned our dream weddings. The hall where I experienced the beginnings of serving in the wider church. The pier where I caught my first fish at the age of 5. The historical marker that I nearly memorized as a child. The gates to the retreat center that feel to me like wide open arms of welcome. The driveway where I first learned the regret of God’s creatures injured at my command (never again!). The office and gift shop where I spent my allowance on snacks and candy. The social hall where an awkward teen danced with self-consciousness. So many memories speaking gently to me. So many pictures to rebuild a scene that played out over 17 years of family vacations and church retreats.
Thank you, God. Thank you for places of sacred memory, of people and places who have shaped and formed me in the light of your grace and glory. Thank you for the collective memories of children now grown, and for the memory making of children now young. Thank you for the parents, now grandparents, who continue to provide memory making opportunities. (#s 361-365)
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