Monday, June 1, 2015

Life Passages and Landscapes

In a week's time I was back in Lancaster County for three of life's passages: a wedding, a funeral, and a graduation party. Driving back to Lancaster County is like going back in time now, as well as space. Any time I go back, I return exhausted, as you imagine a time traveller would be. In the past week, I  revisited parts of my own life--my wedding, my various graduations, funerals of loved ones as well as participating in the events that were in real time. It made for a long week, but one filled with love and connection and reflection all taking place in familiar backdrops.

I come from a tradition in which religion plays a big part in these life passages. God is invoked. We pray for those who are transitioning from singled to marriage and from life to death. It is a comforting ritual, and yet it is something that is increasingly foreign to me. I don't look for the divine. I look to pattern. These days, I tend to reach for poetry and nature in these moments. Nature because it is always in flux. It mirrors the changes in my life back to me, and I am soothed by the way it resurrects itself at every turn--especially this time of year. Poetry,  for its rhythms. I have my favorites. Mary Oliver unites nature with poetry in a way that seamlessly joins my two supports. John O'Donohue is especially observant as he councils us to bless the changes with our attention to them. I access his book To Bless the Space Between Us the moment the wind starts to pick up in my life.

Years ago, I listened to an interview John O'Donohue gave with Krista Tippett's On Being in which he talked about physical and spiritual landscapes and the intertwining nature of the two. "What amazes me about landscape, landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time." The interesting part was that I was listening to this interview while walking near my home in Reinholds. For those who have not been there, I lived in a place of rolling fields. The view changed with those hills, but on many points in my walks, I could look out and survey miles of farmland. I passed million dollar homes on my walks, shacks, a one-room Amish schoolhouse, four different breeds of cow, not to mention goats, chickens, and the occasional fox family. Where there are chickens, there too are foxes. Walking there was expansive. It freed my mind by making me small. The sky was endless.

The landscape is much different in my new home. I cherish my hikes in the woods. Here, in this setting, the woods embrace you. You are folded into nature, a secret part of it. Your eyes close in on the trail before your feet, so you don't trip over the terrain. If you see the sky, it is through peepholes atop the canopy. Some days I even have to speculate at the weather, because I can't see enough of the sky to see for myself. Walking is an interior thought process here. Sometimes that isn't enough of an escape because I am already wired for introspection. It is when I am too much in my head that I long for the wide view.

I never thought, with all the nature of Arden, that I would miss my previous walks, but I do. I miss the open landscape enough that I am homesick for it at times. Our hiking group helps with that. We do get to see some vastly different terrains on our walks. We even add the urban skyline and the ocean view to the mix.

In addition to marking time and ceremony in Arden, I will continue to travel back to Lancaster County to share in the life passages of family and friends that happen there. As I move between the two landscapes I am sure they will have an impact on how I experience these points of transition-- whether I take the wide sweeping view of life, seeing all the points that led me to this one, or if I choose to take up residence in the immediacy of situation. Either way, I am happy I get to project these landscapes over the screen in my mind and merge them with the moments in which I live.

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