faith


From Shore to Canyon {A Pilgrimage}

Continuing with my mini “pilgrimage” across the southwestern United States

After a lovely day touring LA, we woke up before the sun on Friday morning and packed up the rest of my brother’s belongings into the back seat of his 4-door car (good thing I packed light!), we started our journey from LA to the Grand Canyon.

My brother’s apartment was close to the the Playa Del Rey beach so we took a teeny detour so we could drive along the shore road before heading East out of the city. The early morning waves performed a rhythmic dance and whispered a quiet farewell song as we bid the ocean one last adieu. (I had to restrain myself from telling him to stop the car so I could run down and dip my feet in it . I pretended I did instead.)

Thankfully it didn’t take long to get out of the city, probably because we were headed out instead of in and, because there were two travelers, we got to use the carpool lane! We started listening to The Einstein Prophecy, the audio book we’d downloaded from Audible (click here for a free trial), as we drove out of LA through some beautiful mountain and valley areas and then cut through the dry Mojave Desert area and right into Arizona.

Driving through the dessert was interesting – I certainly would not want to get stuck out there alone. We were now far from the soothing ocean waves with no signs of any large bodies of water for miles. After a few hours we traded drivers and I listened to the Family Physics episode on This American Life (It was interesting enough but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it) while I drove the rest of the way in the afternoon.  I can now say, “I drove to the Grand Canyon.”  🙂

As we turned onto the Grand Canyon highway, I was surprised to see how wooded it was – not deserty as I had imagined.

We finally arrived at The Grand Canyon Visitor Center and walked along the sidewalk path up to Canyon. The area still looked more like Colorado and it was hard to believe the Grand Canyon could be anywhere close. But as the path continued and got closer I heard the sound of loud wind – much like the sound of waves from the ocean we had left behind just that morning.

And then the path ascended just slightly, the trees parted, and there, stretching out for miles and miles  – there it was.

A deep silence filled my soul as I gazed over the vastness stretched out in front of me. Of course I have known about the Grand Canyon for all my life but I hadn’t really expected I would ever see it in real life. So seeing it there, right in front of my very eyes, was like looking into a mirage. Surreal. 

I sat on the wall and swung my feet around to hang over the edge…and then I looked down and everything started moving – so I decided I should probably not look down and get back on the other side of the wall.

Now, for most people, coming to see the Grand Canyon, or even to hike in it would be a pretty awesome experience. For me, standing there in front of this geological wonder, held a deeper significance.

All of my life, as much as I can remember, my dad talked about visiting the Grand Canyon. It was a life-long dream of his to see it. Being an English-man, he’d dream of hopping on the Amtrak train and heading West and the maybe he’d rent a car – or ride a donkey knowing him and funny sense of imagination – until he reached it. My dad and our family traveled to many great places throughout his own life and our family life but the we never quite made it to the Canyon.

Until last summer when he accompanied the same brother to California and they made sure to make time for a stop at the Grand Canyon. At the same time they were there, my husband and our family were traveling also in Colorado when my dad sent us a text message with a picture of him at the Grand Canyon.

Long at last, he was there. I remember looking at the picture of him there. He was so happy to finally be there and for some unexplained reason (at the time) I teared up. My heart suddenly filled with a mixture of happiness for him, mixed with an edge of sadness I couldn’t quite place. Then, strangely, a thought came to my mind – “Now, he can die in peace knowing he finally got to see the Grand Canyon.” The strange thought zipped out as quickly as it had come and I waved it off wondering why I would even think that.

God knew. And even then, He was preparing me for what would be fulfilled in the few months after that.

So, as I stood there and as we walked along the Canyon path, stopping to take it all in, I knew I was walking along the same path my dad had taken not even a year before. I wondered,

Dad, what did you think when you saw the Canyon stretched out before you like this? How did you feel?

Small.

We all think we are so big. Our problems and struggles, our work and accomplishments, our existence.

Flying over the mountains and desert on my way to LA, everything looked tiny. Now, standing in one fractional sliver of the total area of the Canyon, I felt smaller than a seed.

Yet…not insignificant.

We stayed and walked along the path as the lazy afternoon sun slowly slumped lower behind the canyon rim, dragging the last of its golden rays over the canyon as it went.

I think I know now a little of how he must have felt there, what he might have thought. Thoughts without words.

I was inexplicably thankful I could stand where he stood, walked where he walked. That my eyes could imbibe of the same magnificent view his had, inebriated in Glory.

We stayed just until a soft purply-pink hue gently brushed across the sky and the last of the sun’s rays kissed the tips of the canyon tops goodnight before blanketing the canyon in shadow.

As we left, I whispered one last prayer over the canyon, scattering a part of my dad’s memory over the great abyss and carrying the rest with me.

Dad, I miss you so much. But in a way, being here, I feel I have found a part of you that I can now hold in my heart forever. Thank you, Jesus, for allowing me this Peace. 

Grand Canyon Last Sunrays - Explored!

My husband edited and posted this picture on Flickr and it got over 7,000 views and made it onto the Explorer! Who woulda known.

 

(Photo credits: I took the pictures but most of the credit really goes to my awesome husband who isn’t lazy like me and knows how to filter and stitch images together for seamless beauty.)


Pilgrimage {A Journey to the Shore} 5

Pilgrimage:

a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion:
any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage: (Dictionary.com)

If there was one word to act as motif for this season I find myself in, it would be “Pilgrimage”.

…or maybe transformation…or metanoia…ok I’ll stick with Pilgrimage for now.

The truth is, we are all pilgrims, whether we know it or not, we are all on our way “somewhere else”, even if we do not know where.

I know it’s an overused analogy, the “path of life”, but it’s a good one that’s easy to relate to so I’ll go with it.

When I reflect on my life, it’s all been a series of roads that widened and narrowed, diverged into trails leading into the unknown or which have led me down and up winding paths through soft meadows or jagged rocks. It’s all been one long journey, a pilgrimage.

In some parts of this journey, I’ve felt both confident and self-assured, whistling my way along, knowing exactly where I was at, where I was headed. Other times, I’ve felt desperately lost and alone, losing all sense of direction without a certain destination. When this happens, all I can do is follow. 

I’m reading a book right now, Laurus, which is, to encapsulate, all about Pilgrimage. In it the main fictional character, Arseny, reflects on his journey in this way –

Sometimes I feel. ..the road unfolds itself under my feet. And. ..I do not know where it leads.

This analogy literally met the pavement as I recently journeyed for a cumulative four days west to Los Angeles (by air) and back across five states with my younger brother (by car).

It’s the first time I flew, or traveled anywhere far, on my own for a long time, not even a toddler or infant as an extra passenger this time. Just me, soaring above the clouds as the sunrise raced to follow. Climbing higher, I could feel a weight shedding and my soul loosening. I ached for my dad, though, somehow I knew he was right there with me.

Up, up, up into the air I soared, watching the buildings and houses turn into miniature toys scattered across the plains and fields. Over snow-capped mountains stretching their peaks to meet us in the clouds and soaring over miles of dry cracks, stretch marks and time-worn crevices in the earth’s surface.  Finally, reaching the end of the new world, I escaped my sky-shuttle confinement and was greeted by the cool ocean breeze running to welcome me.

My brother showed me around some places around LA,  starting with a satisfying meal that hit the spot at HomeGirl Cafe, a cool deli cafe that’s part of a non-profit gang rehabilitation program, a quick walk-through (because parking is expensive!) of the impressive Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels,  a lovely stroll through the architectural gem and masterpiece galleys of The Getty Center art museum, and finally embracing the ocean’s soothing waves that have beckoned me to come back to them after many years.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles

The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA

View of downtown LA (in the distance) and Culver City

One of the Getty Center’s exhibition buildings.

View into the Getty Courtyard

I was in love with the Getty’s architectural design

Alone – or at least without my usual dependents attached – I felt I was able to just follow the road, letting my brother guide me through the city, allowing God to pull me along the path.

We made our way down the boardwalk and onto the Santa Monica beach. Unfortunately, a cold front had blown in that day and it was chili, in the 60’s as opposed to the warmer 80’s from a few days before.

Apparently this didn’t bother some people as they plunged right into the waves, hitching a ride on the waves on their boogey boards back to the sandy shore. I’m a wimp for cold and kept both my jacket and shoes on snug.


I stood on the beach, inhaling the salty air mixed with a seaweedy smell, watching the people around me, closing my eyes and letting the sound of the waves roll over me. I crouched down as one wave broke away from the group and came skipping right up to me, allowing me a quick tickle with my fingers, before the giggly wave twirled back just as fast as it came.



Though I didn’t take my shoes and socks off to dip my feet in – much to my later agonizing regret – I could almost feel the waves wash over me, coaxing and tugging me to come and play with them.  I remembered, from previous experiences on the Pacific Mexican shore, the exhilarating feeling of the waves crashing around my legs, the delicate sand sinking below my feet as the water receded, taking a part of the shore with it each time.


We lingered there a short time then walked along the shore, listening the the rhythmic waves rising and crashing, the sound lapping over me, soothing me…healing me. 

We breathed in one long breath and bid our final farewell to the ocean, unsure when – or if – we’d return to it’s embracing arms again. We trecked back through the thick sand, hiked the staircase back up the ridge, found our way back to the car and then enjoyed a overfilling meal in the twilight-lit bay of the Marina.

Stay tuned for more pictures and story from my “pilgrimage” soon.

(Photorights: I took all these pictures with my husbands’s A6000, no editing or filtering because I’m lazy.)


Letting Go of Our Wills 4

My soul is full of silent words as it groans and moans and sludges along after “losing” my dad last month. 

I’ve wanted to come here and write but I admit I’m afraid of depressing everyone with my current situation. But I also feel like I have much to share from what I have learned and am learning from these major challenges of life. A friend said I shouldn’t worry about it because if people want to read it they will and if they don’t, they won’t. Simple.

I’ve been thinking about why this grieving is so hard. Because it is. Losing someone, whether you had years to prepare or no time at all, is excruciatingly difficult.

I’ve heard that from others but I couldn’t have really known until now.

I think there are many reasons that make it so hard to get through. Some moments, I feel like I’m ok, I’ll get through this just one slow step at a time. In other moments, living with the pain of grief feels like I’m trying to continue swimming upstream with a 100 lb weight attached to my feet.

I’ve been trying to journal but it’s hard to get any words out. Words are empty in times like these, they swirl around in my soul but then they only come out like pieces of lint from the dryer. Mush.

However, the thought I’ve been pondering the most is about “God’s Will” and our extreme attachment to our own wills.  In private, it’s easy to say I “trust God” and “I will do whatever He asks of me.” But in reality, we cling desperately to our own wills, our own plans and ideas for how things should go.

This is what makes losing someone so hard. It goes against what we want.

This isn’t to say that God wants us to suffer and die. Not at all. He mourns our suffering and our deaths along with us because this is not how He wants it to be.

But just as he created nature, even with all its profound beauty and it’s unpredictable destruction, so too death is now a fundamental part of this mysterious natural world we live in.

God invites us to become part of Him and His creation by loving others just as He does.

But he also calls us to surrender everything to Him. Everything. Even those whom we love the most.

But for many of us, our love for others becomes more of an attachment. And the more attached we are, the harder it is to detach.

Love is not attachment. Love is surrender. Love is Agape.

Love is desiring for another to have love. Love is desiring for another person’s total and complete happiness. If Love is God and God is Love – which I firmly believe is true – then Love is desiring for another to be in total and complete union with God. Forever. 

And this is what God’s Will is, as I wrote about about a year ago, His Will is simply to Save All Souls: Bring them to Heaven and provide Eternal and Complete Happiness for All. 

The how, when and where are the hard parts because we have very little, if any, control over those. And that’s the main reason grieving is difficult. We don’t want to let them go, we want them to stay with us forever and our lives to go on “as usual”. But they can’t.

We have to surrender ourselves completely to His Will and let go of our control – or at least accept that it was a farce to believe we had control to begin with. Talk about being humbled.

What I am learning, over and over, is that we need to ask God not to take our pains away but to help us accept and surrender to whatever He allows us to go through, no matter how difficult. Easier said than done but it’s really the key to getting through the hard stuff of life.


Still Clinging to Hope 3

Just about two weeks ago, I wrote about Holding onto Hope during the Advent Season as we waited in Hope for the Joy of Christmas.

In that post I shared that –

The interesting thing is that the past few months, even before Advent began, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging on my soul much like my three-year-old tugs my hand when he wants me to go somewhere but I’m “too busy” doing something else.

I felt God calling me, in His “still, small, voice” – Slow down, Erika. Come…come deeper with me.

I felt Him preparing me for – something, though not sure what, I knew there was something coming.

That something has been unraveling itself slowly each day in different forms.

Recently, our family has learned some hard news and serious health issues have come up in various forms that have given me enormous and profound pause. 

It is with a deep sadness that I share, for anyone who reads this but may not know me and my family as well, that the very next day after writing that post, my dad was unexpectedly taken to the hospital and, much to our shock, passed away the day after into the mysterious realm of God’s eternal Kingdom.

We have spent our Christmas time working on funeral arrangements, trying to enjoy some joy on Christmas still, and terribly missing my dad.

Like I shared in the eulogy  at his Rosary,  it has been hard for this to happen during Christmas time but in a way, it is also quite perfect. Christmas is about remembering and celebrating that God humbled himself to become human like us and to enter into our world so that he could save us from all suffering and bring us into His Kingdom. That’s the whole purpose and great end that we all hope to attain. So in a way, all the songs and the liturgy have been a constant reminder of this to comfort us in our grief.

That said, even though I put on a smile and try to “carry on”, my mind of Faith (and everyone else) tells me that this is better for him this way and yet, my heart still aches terribly as my family and I miss him so much.

Looking back over the months, this must have been what God was trying to prepare me for. I couldn’t have known it would be this but I know He is sending our family the Grace we need through all our friends and family who have been so incredibly generous and kind to us during this time. I am literally speechless (if you can imagine) at all the support we’ve received.

The journey we started when we found out about the cancer is not over though, it has only just begun. We have to continue on this path for him, even if he is no longer right next to us, I do feel my dad is still with us in a mysterious and unexplainable way.

All that said, I know this means I have to enter into a season of silence and contemplation as my heart heals and we try and continue on. I’m not sure how often I’ll blog here for now, we’ll just see how it goes. I’m going to cancel my Simplemama Podcast for now but will continue helping host the CM Hangout Podcast with CatholicMom.com later this month.  (So if you really want to listen to my old Podcasts, you’ll need to download them before I cancel the service.)

I have learned a lot through this process and, as strange as it sounds, my faith has grown deeper as I cling even tighter to my Jesus. It is hard for me to pray right now, not because I do not believe anymore, but well…sometimes the greatest prayer is a silent one. So if you could please literally pray for me (while I can’t) and I will offer my silent prayer for those of you out there who are struggling.

Cling to Jesus. Cling to Hope. 


Hold on to Hope 2

I took a somewhat unintentional break from blogging for Advent but my heart is full and needs emptying.

Limiting my time online for Advent has been very good. It’s given me time to focus on Christmas preparation, on gift-buying and making, and most especially, time for more quiet.

When I think of Advent, I’d describe it as a time of hopeful silence.

What is hopeful silence?

It’s a man pressing his ear against his wife’s pregnant belly, wondering what’s going on in the silence of her womb, waiting to hear their baby’s first cry, hoping for the moment he’ll get to cradle his soft body in their arms and kiss his smooth pruny skin.

It’s that last breath you take before diving off the high-dive and plunging into the water, hoping you won’t hit your head and you’ll swim back up to the surface soon for more air.

It’s a season. A season to retreat from the loud world, the noisy crackle of insane schedules, a time to release ourselves from outward pressures.  A time for quiet, sprinkled throughout our days. A time for reflection and silent contemplation. A time to just be even while we prepare for the Joy to come.

The thing is, everyone is waiting. Waiting for something better. Secretly hoping for better days.

It’s why people work – to make more money for “a better life”.

It’s why people go to school – to have “better opportunities”.

It’s why most people get up in the morning – to eat breakfast. 😉

 

The interesting thing is that the past few months, even before Advent began, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging on my soul much like my three-year-old tugs my hand when he wants me to go somewhere but I’m “too busy” doing something else.

I felt God calling me, in His “still, small, voice” – Slow down, Erika. Come…come deeper with me.

I felt Him preparing me for – something, though not sure what, I knew there was something coming.

That something has been unraveling itself slowly each day in different forms.

Recently, our family has learned some hard news and serious health issues have come up in various forms that have given me enormous and profound pause. 

We’ve had to step onto a path that none of us ever wanted to ever go on.

And this is how God is calling me to go deeper. He’s calling me to swim away from the safe shore, below the sunny surface, deeper to where I cannot see what lies beneath.

I say I’ll come, but it’s hard to dive deeper when you still have a life jacket on.

He extends His hand out to me and gives me that look. 

Trust me. 

And I can’t resist. I follow.

When one first comes to know Christ, the first “layer” so to say of the new relationship is much like a springtime dating relationship, followed by a blissful honeymoon. Eventually, however, it’s time to get real and that means accepting that if you really want to grow closer with God, you’re going to have to go through a certain refiner’s fire. 

That said, I do not believe God “makes us suffer” or that he “sends suffering to us to make us stronger.” Thomas Merton says it well in his book, New Seeds of Contemplation,

In all the situations of life the “will of God” comes to us not merely as an external dictate of impersonal law but above all as an interior invitation of personal love. Too often the conventional conception of “God’s will” as a sphinx-like and arbitrary force bearing down upon us with implacable hostility, leads men to lose faith in a God they cannot find it possible to love.

I was talking with a good and wise friend about these things, about why God allows suffering in our lives, and what she said was perfect.

[Times of suffering] are opportunities. 

God allows nature to take it’s course, He allows consequences – not to punish us but to allow for growth. He also allows much room for miracles. Sometimes we bring our own suffering. But more often, we find ourselves in hard times by no real fault of our own. Whatever the case, when suffering enters our lives, we have an opportunity.

We can look at the suffering and say, Why me?! I don’t want this! and fight against it and curse God and everyone.

Or –

We can look at the suffering as a gift. An opportunity to use this as a way to come closer with God. A way to reach out to Him for Help.  An opportunity to join with others in their suffering with compassion and love. A time to seek Him and pray…a time to be quiet and listen. 

(I’m laughing at that last line because amongst everything else going on this week I have had laryngitis and have no voice.)

A friend asked me today if I have felt angry or “Why me” about everything going on.

I thought about it a little and you know, not really. I have felt confused. I have felt humbled as I realize I know very little compared to everything I thought I knew. I have felt foolish for forgetting just how mortal we all are and how finite this life is.

But not angry. Why would I be angry with God? He is the ONE person who can help me deal with all this. He is the ONLY ONE who is bigger than any suffering we will endure. I need Him. I cling to Him.

I trust in Him. And I hope. 

I hope for His strength, for his Peace.

Most importantly, I hope for all the JOY He has waiting for me and my family and all of us.

I know so many of us are struggling with various issues, most of us, in a hidden way, some of us in outward ways. I pray and I hope you can find comfort in knowing that God is with you through his Son, Emmanuel (literally, God is with us.) He is our only Hope, the one True Hope.

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