(To continue on a recent theme….)
This morning, people all over the country and many parts of the world are stumbling out of bed, grabbing some coffee, showering, dressing, and rushing off to a job they don’t really enjoy. For many people, life has become so full of drudgery and stress they can barely stand it.
Is this what we have to look forward to for the rest of our working days? Or can we break through this cycle of monotony and stress to embrace a life more full of joy and meaning?
The first step toward living a life with more meaning is to recognize that it is okay to want more. With all my heart, I believe that God wants for us to be happy. I don’t think the Creator envisioned this kind of work-obsessed, money-driven world when the Garden of Eden was created.
The second step is to allow some time and space to listen to that still small voice which may be feeling discontented with the way things are. It is okay to want something more meaningful. It is okay to want to be happy. It is okay to follow your dreams. It is okay to stop the panicked race for monetary income and to allow instead an opportunity for peace and joy.
In order to hear that still, small voice, it is usually helpful if we leave our ordinary workaday world. Some stillness or sacred space can make it easier to listen. This could mean taking a few hours to relax at a park, or it could mean a day or two off from work and a road trip to the shore or mountains. It could even mean a full-fledged pilgrimage.
In ancient Europe, Christians were expected once in their lifetime to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or Rome. Nowadays, there are Christians who make pilgrimages to places of Marian sightings – like Lourdes or Fatima. Or they walk the Camino in Spain (as conveyed in the movie with Martin Sheen called The Way and the book by Shirley Maclaine called The Camino.) In the southwest of the U.S., thousands walk to Chimayo in New Mexico during Holy Week. And in Mexico, millions throng to Mexico City to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Most faith traditions encourage travel to sacred sites. Able-bodied Muslims are encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime and both Hindus and Buddhists often make pilgrimages to any of a number of sites in India or the Himalayas.
But it isn’t necessary to travel huge distances and spend a lot of money in order to find sacred space. There are sacred places all around us. (Although if your heart is calling you to take a pilgrimage to a faraway place, by all means, go!)
A few days ago I found myself more stressed than usual. I had allowed myself to get out of balance and I absolutely knew that I needed to go on a walk and immerse myself in nature. I am blessed because a quarter of a mile away from my home is this lovely labyrinth. Labyrinths are wonderfully centering. At a labyrinth one walks a meandering, meditative route spiraling ever onward toward the center. After spending time in contemplation or reflection, one follows the circuitous route back out again. You cannot get lost in a labyrinth. You simply walk the path laid before you and it leads you toward your destination – either in toward the center or back out again, a wonderful metaphor for the spiritual path.
That day I enjoyed my time in the labyrinth, but I knew I wanted and needed more. So I walked another quarter mile to this great gushing mountain stream. I am blessed because I live at the base of a truly awesome and beautiful mountain. It is sacred to the Hopi (and I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons I was unknowingly drawn to this place.) Right now, in early May, the snowcaps are melting. One result is this joyfully wet, splashing, cold, pure mountain stream, complete with many tumbling little waterfalls.
Once I got within sight and sound of this stream, my spirits rose almost immediately. I live in the high desert. The ground is sandy and the vegetation tends toward pinon, juniper, and chamisa. The average annual rainfall is a bit less than thirteen inches. So to be around such an abundance of splashing, happy water and the tall trees which surround it made me feel a bit high.
I picked my way through the junipers and aspens, many of which had fallen and laid strewn around me in peaceful surrender. I perched on the bank of the creek and simply looked and listened. Ahhhh. Here was my paradise. And in such easy walking distance! I vowed then and there to make a regular pilgrimage to this place.
Is there somewhere near you that makes your heart sing? Maybe it’s a lake or a pond. Maybe it’s a hill with a great view of the sunset. Maybe it’s a woods filled with woodpeckers and thrushes and deer. Or maybe you find peace at a local shrine or chapel. Or maybe you are drawn to one of the many labyrinths popping up all over the place.
Wherever you can go to find a place of peace, stillness, or joy, please go, and go often. Not only does your spirit need this place, the world itself needs you to go there. For when we are at peace, it ripples out to everyone around us, and the world will be a bit happier as a result.
May you find your peace. May you find your joy.
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