Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A tale of Adventure

I almost died this week. Well, not really, but I could have. On my camino day this week, the day when I venture out into the world to paradoxically retreat inward to connect more with god, I found myself on an exhilarating adventure where I easily could have broken a bone and yes, died (though that was not the intent). I thought I was going for a hike on one of the many gorgeous, well maintained trails in New England. This time venturing to Stone Church in Dover Plains NY, a short trail that winds alongside a babbling brook and meets a cave who's opening looks like a church, with a waterfall and large stone pulpit inside. Sounds lovely, yes? All my research said so (as evidenced by this site). It turns out the church doesn't have many visitors in winter, and fewer visitor still when winter is becoming spring.

After walking down a set of icy stone stairs, the trail welcomed me with a gorgeous view of the mountains with a runway of grass in between, lined with manicured trees. I am sure in fall this view is even more breathtaking than the dead grass and bare trees offered, but fall could not offer the lake of ice that was recently melted into water, reflecting the sky, trees and plains all around. Realizing I would get wet and too excited for adventure to be put off so early, I rationalized, "my shoes are waterproof and that doesn't look deep. It's cold anyway - 0 deg C and 35 deg F, and it would be a shame to turn around at the first trial, so let's go!"

The crystal clear ice water was colder and deeper than I expected as my shoes filled up with water and I skated on the ice at the bottom while wading through the water (with a giant grin on my face). By the time I even considered turning around I was already half way, so preceded on with two blocks of ice for feet (the grin now more like a grimace).

The second part of the trail was a sheet of ice, staccatoed with dirt clumps from below, so I used my awesome Ahnu boots to ice skate. The slight inclines required maneuvering on the snow on the edges for traction, but on I went accompanied by the babbling brook. Finally, I came to the trailhead (the beginning as most would see it), went over the stream on a new footbridge, and looked in the direction of the stone church.

Though not yet in view, what was visible was magnificent. The path was about 2-3 feet wide, pure ice, with a natural wall of snow covered rocks and sharp hills on the left, and a small cliff into a more forceful brook on the right, with the water rushing around rocks big and small. The sound of the brook was louder, with the waterfall close by. With very little to grab onto, I sauntered ahead, shuffling one foot at a time, grabbing a branch when available, and leaning left so as not to fall into the river.

It was such fun! Trying to go up what I couldn't even see was a hill, failing, trying a different way. Marveling at the melting ice and frozen waterfalls along the way, somehow poised next to the rushing water. As some point I realized other people would probably find this dangerous and wouldn't have come this far, especially wearing only a hoodie and yoga pants, with a thin rain jacket in case it rained. Definitely under-dressed for the cold temperature, I reflected how unprepared I was for this journey, similar to how unprepared I have felt for the journey I've been on the last 6 months at the novitiate, yet that has been bumpy and I have survived, so I could certainly handle this short trail of a journey.

Some of the branches I grabbed were covered in thorns or not attached to anything, and I jerked back before remembering the rapid water rushing behind me and twisted back again towards the hill. Many years of ballet, yoga, and general clumsiness trained me to catch myself over and over. I mused how these deceptive branches looked like help but weren't what I was looking for, like the many people who we reach out to in times of need that whether they want to or not, cannot help us. That strength and guidance needs to come from within, emanating from a source of truth, experience, and training for this moment.

 Closer to the cave, I had to stretch between rocks submerged in the water to enter the cave, tried a few different footings, and with the grace of a T-Rex playing hopscotch, eventually made it inside the cave to a rock a few inches higher than the surrounding water. I perched on the rock to begin to absorb a scene so mysterious, it must have been contrived by C S Lewis and Salvador Dali. I was consumed by the mist rising from the water, the powerful waterfall at the back juxtaposed with the frozen waterfall right next to it, a crack of blue sky in the ceiling, and the deafening noise as the water crashed by, escaping from the cave and headed down the valley. I was in another world - Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock creatures were sure to spring out of a hole in the side.

I stayed and meditated, becoming so relaxed at one point that my foot slipped into the water and I caught myself from going downstream just in time. Adjusting a little, and pleased at the level of physical relaxation I was able to attain, I was compelled to continue to contemplate the magnificence of a sight that existed as a gift for me from the creator of the cosmos. This site, evolving for millenia, hallowing out from what started as a trickle in a rock to become a waterfall in a cave, waiting for the perfect wintery conditions to combine flowing water, ice, and mist, to invite me into a mystical experience of the all encompassing love god shows through nature. I know this was a gift for me, in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, "If this is arrogant, God, forgive me, but this is what I need to say." No one else would have been fool hearty enough to go past all of those elements, to not feel a twinge of fear and rather excitement and anticipation of what was waiting ahead, as if being propelled by an all-knowing spirit. This moment, this place, this experience was waiting for me from the dawn of time in order to be fulfilled. Of this I am sure.

While in this transcendent state, I pondered how Lent gives us a chance to pause for a moment and reflect on our spiritual journey to reset our course. Are we doing enough for others? How regularly and intentionally are we communicating with our god? Do we show enough compassion and love for ourselves, the amount god showers on us? These three elements of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are ways we can reset our course towards spiritual wholeness this season. We get 40 days to try and try again, being kind to ourselves when we fail and feeling renewed to try again. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert to get ready for his public mission, to grapple with god and who he was, to shed all of the things that weren't really him or necessary for his journey. Perhaps this lent, that's what we can do too. Shed the things that aren't us and are hindering us from our becoming our potential. With each act of kindness, each turning away from temptation, and each prayer to the creator for the miraculous life we all have, we can shape this world into the way the world should be, a new heaven, a new earth.

After a prayer of thanksgiving for such a fantastic experience (and realizing if I stayed too long, I might fall in completely), I left. The way back was downhill, faster, and messier. I sprawled around like a giraffe learning to walk, slid down a hill of ice at one point, unintentionally twirled on the ice numerous times, and splashed through the icy water. If something had happened, such as tripping on a rock, something that could have happened anywhere, no one would have known and I probably could have died, but that sense of knowing in that deep place where you know things, from the first steps in the water, I knew that experience was brewing from my first 'yes' to god. I knew that trip was destined from the dawn of time, from the first explosions of hydrogen. With my angels by my side and a smile big enough to release the joy spilling out, I was being safely escorted along my path in, out, and beyond.

Oh, and I must thank Rainer Maria Rilke, who was kind enough to write a poem about my experience in his Book of Hours back in 1905. He really captured the awe and hope I felt in the cave, and the journey along the way.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

- Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours

1 comment:

  1. What an adventure! May it become a guiding metaphor for times ahead. PS... No need to relive the possible dangers, right???✨