Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reflections on a yellow wood

I finished The Cloud of Unknowing this morning, and in the last section of the book he points out that if meditation does not bring you great joy, you may well not be called to it; it is okay to walk away. And then, of course, he admits that the joy won't always be there, and that's okay, too.

And then, because I finished my first chapter of Jesus, The Teacher Within yesterday, I thought I'd embark on the study questions we had been given. The first one on the list was this: Are there other questions you have experienced as redemptive in your life? And, having just read that passage in the Cloud of Unknowing, I remembered my first year on Shaw Island.

I had quit a job I loved, a job I had thought I would hold for the rest of my life, because the political climate where I worked made it impossible for me to do the job in good conscience. I had moved to a small island with my two daughters, only seeing my husband on weekends, with the idea that I would write a book. The book was written, I had a publisher interested, and then my mother died, suddenly, after a routine surgery.

Hers was the fourth death among friends and family in the space of less than a year, and the combined total of all the losses -- the deaths, the job, being away from my husband, in a home not my own -- threw me into a tailspin. I was angry, depressed, lost and lonely, all of it playing out in my body with various aches, pains and illnesses, and my computer and email were my lifeline to the world.

And the question my dear friend Nan Cobbey emailed me when I was at the bottom of that spiral was this: what sort of job or activity would make you leap out of bed with joy in the morning, eager to tackle another day?

It was a wonderful question, simple, and yet redemptive -- perhaps because it reminded me that joy was possible, reminded me to look for joy, and assured me that I deserved joy. It was also life-changing, because in seeking the answer I came to realize how much photography meant to me; how much joy it brought me; how consistently it seemed to bring me closer to God -- unlike the job, which I missed so much, which I thought I had been DOING for God.

That question allowed me to engineer a subtle shift of direction that also helped me discover my deep desire for meditative/contemplative activities. And that, as it says in the Robert Frost poem, has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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