It’s Valentine’s Day, and everyone speaks of love! It seems appropriate a week out from Lent to do a little musing in this area, and it can contribute to our ongoing conversations about setting our hearts begun in the last post. [Please note that a number of the posts from now through Easter Week will harken to that heart-setting image begun on Feb. 11th]
However you may feel about the cultural celebration of this day, and emotions and actions it may prompt, I’d ask you to come on a different adventure with me. Let’s go camping near the beach!
I love Ocracoke Island at the southern point of North Carolina’s Outer Banks dearly. My father was from NC, and we always went there for vacation. Once his mother died (a wonderful matriarch – Grandma Minnie!), we started camping on the way to seeing family. Ocracoke Island is approximately 12-15 miles long and 1/2-1 mile wide. The sun rises over the ocean and sets over the sound! The National Seashore campground there is just over the dunes from the ocean, and you hear the waves all the time. It’s a very important home place for me.
As an adult I went back on my own for the first time in my twenties with a small pup tent that billowed into a great green and yellow balloon when I tried to put it up, and my mixed collie/golden retriever Beau sat on the picnic table and doggie-grinned/laughed at me. I got so frustrated and then laughed at myself for taking myself and the task so seriously. The trips to Ocracoke which I still make bring me back to myself and to what is most important.
Perhaps you too have places to which you go which remind you of who you most are and what’s most important. They provide shelter and safety, the space to enter into the place where you already dwell, and only then gentle firm reminders of where you may need to adjust to live from here more in your everyday. I value those places and spaces and relationships highly, and I wager you do too. Still, they take a bit of courage to enter entirely and willingly.
Inevitably, a night or two when I am in Ocracoke, the sky is clear and black beyond any blackness seen near city or town. I wrap up in sweats and socks and mosquito proof wear (I hope) and throw a large beach towel down on an empty picnic table at a nearby site and lay looking at the utter blackness as the amazing whiteness of stars arrive, with some occasional almost star cloud looking areas. (Galaxies? I find less need to name them, and more just to honor them by seeing them). The sheer number of white pinpoints bright and brighter amazes me and broadens me. I am caught up, from my picnic table, in an amazement at the beauty and abundance, even while I live in the practical of batting away any mosquitoes! I do not find it an uncomfortable experience of my relative smallness next to the immense – but a freeing participation in the dance as who and where I am. I stay as long as I can.
I love the beach, and I am always broadened by the expanse of ocean and sand. Still, I’m not as interested in lying tanning on the beach as I am lying being stretched on my night star watch. On nights when there are less stars and even some clouds, I still watch some. And in my tent, I look out through the windows at the night sky, and fall asleep as if I were a small child resting on the night’s sweet breast. I come home.
Back at home, I cannot see the stars as well. And I forget to look every night. But I still have echoes of those nights, and recognize the taste of the same sheltering or being spoken to when I see the first robin of spring (soon, I hope!), when I watch the daffodils begin to peak up (now, already!), when I smell fresh cut grass, when I hear my mother laugh, when I read scripture, when I pray with beautiful images, when I encounter a friend-saint’s words and journey, when I gather around the table with other pilgrims in worship and oneness, when I find deep silence, when I encounter another’s gifts and vulnerabilities, when I play with words and create, when music speaks or soothes, when I stand in the sun or allow myself to get soaked in the rain.
Being loved, in my experience, feels alot like finding home. And at home there is an embrace that is shelter and the invitation to broaden or expand. Teresa of Avila spoke in prayer the words of the psalm asking God to dilate her heart (some translations – to open my docile heart). I believe God, who is Love, does indeeed shelter us and broaden and open us. And we desperately need both.
As we are a week away from Lent’s beginning, it seems to me that before you and I dwell on how we can better set our hearts, it is appropriate to remember what is most important – and who we most are, in God. We need to find the places, the spaces, the moments, the experiences that help us enter our own hearts so that we can be touched there. Before we focus on setting our hearts, we do well to sink down into them to see where we are, in peace. So, some questions for the next few days until we meet here again 😉
- Where can I go, what can I open my eyes to see, which will bring me back to my heart?
- With what words or images or experiences in creation can I dwell with that always seem to center me?
- Will I choose to be with some of those in order to come back to my own heart as a starting point before Lent?
- What fears do I have about coming back to here, to my heart, to my life? And can I feel and recognize them for 5-minutes in all their fullness and then go to my heart anyway, asking grace and peace? (Courage – couer-age – is not lack of fear, but acting and stepping regardless. Shift often happens after a move, rather than before.)
- Will I allow myself to simply BE at home, at heart (on the picnic table looking up at the night sky doing nothing but seeing)?
- What thoughts get in the way? And can the sojourner-pilgrim you gently shush them, embrace the part of you that panics or is restless like a child on your lap, and continue to just be?
- Can I breathe and take the metaphorical elevator down, floor by floor, until I reach a stillness and a quietness?
Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, God. So St. Augustine told us in his Confessions. Happily, our God seems to love to take part in calming us so that we eventually may rest – we don’t even have to do that all on our own! If we find ourselves beside ourselves, so to speak, we are not there alone. We say where we are, ask what we need, live the next moment, expect God will help, and look to see how and where. We must be available and awake to experience the Love that is all around us. And then, whether our emotions register it or not (emotions are fickle things!), we can wonder at what shows up as we ‘see’.
So, imagine looking into a beautiful black night sky with me. In silence, find yourself looked upon by the stars as you look at them. Experience shelter, experience the invitations to be broader and wider and more expansive. And know that these are two important elements of Love, and specifically intimate invitations to your own heart by the one who particularly LOVES you.
A colleague-friend’s Facebook status today wished that each person who read it would experience God’s head over heels love for her, for him, particularly this day. I wrote back, “Thanks!” A lovely moment of confirmation, seeing – prompted by the seeing and journey of a friend. May you too, this Valentine’s Day, find places and spaces to encounter at heart the LOVE who embraces you – who shelters you, who expands you. And may you do nothing more than receive – for being a good gift-receiver is a great act of THANKS to the Lover-par-excellence!