“Begin in a place in your soul’s landscape…”
I receive Heather’s invitation through my computer screen, which feels like a familiar mode of interaction after five weeks of sheltering-at-home. Twenty-five faces seem to stare at me from a grid of rectangles, so I close my eyes and repeat Heather’s invitation…my soul’s landscape.
I stare at the inside of my eyelids, a dark canvas, and feel disappointment, for this feels true. My soul’s landscape is dark and desolate. I take a deep breath, willing myself to reject this lie and to remain open. I take another deep breath in and slowly exhale, and an image begins to form. I’m so startled that I almost lose it, but I focus on the bright blue of a Colorado sky.
A blue sky flashes through the tops of the lodgepole pines bordering my hike. The trees begin to thin as I near the end of the trail, and soon I find myself stepping into a clearing. Stretched before me is a placid mountain lake, reflecting the towering pines. I walk to the water’s edge and inhale deeply. As I do, I feel myself settle. A gentle breeze stirs, offering a peaceful welcome.
When Heather speaks again, I open my eyes and take in the computer screen and the room in which I’m sitting, cluttered despite five weeks in quarantine. Tears begin to fall as the contrast between the chaos of my reality and the serenity of my soul’s landscape collide. I barely take in Heather’s next question, “What is one significant longing you’ve had since this pandemic began unfolding?”
This time, as I ponder her question, I am met with internal silence, and I’m tempted to declare, “Nothing.” There’s no nagging, no longing…just resignation. The silence seems to affirm this as true, but suddenly I hear a single word: “Purpose.” It’s not an “a-ha” moment, for I don’t really understand the what and why of the word, but I receive it with a spirit of curiosity.
Standing on the shore, I stoop to pick up a pebble, and I toss it across the lake. It breaks the surface, interrupting the smooth water with gentle ripples. My thoughts turn to school. Five weeks ago, I entered a time of online instruction, like most teachers, which will continue until the end of the school year. This has been disruptive, of course, but it’s also been a surprising end, for this is my last semester teaching. I watch the ripples extend across the water, and I wonder, “What’s next?”
“Take the salt,” Heather instructs. She invites us to taste salt as an embodied way of acknowledging our thirst and saying “yes” to our longing. Tears well yet again as I listen to a chorus of women saying, “Yes, yes, yes” to their unique longings. I honor their sacred “yeses” by looking at their faces one-by-one, and then I add my own “yes” to the chorus. Yes, I will be curious about my longing for purpose as one chapter of my story comes to a close.
With the taste of salt still on my tongue, I’m invited into “the shedding” as Heather poses the question, “What do you need to release?” This gathering of women is quiet, except for the sound of peelers scraping against carrots, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables. It’s a tactile way of releasing what is holding us back, weighing us down, or silencing our voices. I ponder my own response as I listen to the “swish-swish” of the peelers.
What do I need to release?
The hoot of a grouse calls me out of my contemplation, and for the first time, I notice that I am wearing a backpack. I take it off, set it down, and roll my shoulders. They ache from the load they’ve been carrying. Curiously, I open the backpack and am surprised to find a small boat inside. I pick it up, study it, and then crouch at the water’s edge. I place the boat on the water, and a breeze begins to move it across the lake. I am relieved as it floats out of my view.
As I reorient my gaze to the computer screen, I watch as Heather reveals the mound of peels that have gathered at her feet. We pause for a moment of silence to honor everything hard and holy that it represents. Then, her next question breaks the quiet, “What is trying to be told about who you are and what you are meant to bring? And will you allow yourself to taste the sweetness of this truth?” As I eat a piece of chocolate, savoring its sweetness, I ask God, “What is being named about who I am?”
Surrounded by beauty, I ask, “Who am I, God? What am I meant to bring to this world?” I close my eyes and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. A breeze stirs my hair. As I listen, another grouse hoots in the distance. I open my eyes, looking with contentment at my soul’s landscape, and raise my arms in worship. With a full heart, I declare once more, “Yes.”
I am still listening.
At the end of our time together, Heather confirms, “You are meant to live in this rhythm, deepening who you are.” In a time that feels unpredictable, disruptive, and disorienting, this rhythm she shares is a gift that helps me see past the pandemic, listen beyond the noise, dream as I continue to distance, and hold onto hope for my “yes.”
*You can hear Heather Stringer and engage these questions on the Red Tent Women Live video from Sunday, April 19. Find this video at the Red Tent Living Facebook page. For more information about Heather Stringer, visit her website at www.lifeinritual.com.
A lover of story, Susan Tucker has always been captivated by beautiful writing. She is drawn to themes of tension, joy/grief, hope/loss, freedom/shame, which she explores in her own writing. Susan spends her days teaching middle school English, mothering her two teenage sons, and loving her husband of 25 years. She cherishes her first cup of coffee each morning, moments of quiet and solitude, restorative yoga, worship music, and faithful friends.nbsp