For months, if not lifetimes, I have felt it. For years I have sat, denying the undercurrent of a deep truth. Sitting in a pew, the same wooden pew for years with sunlight pouring through stained glass, a deep churning has stirred. Finally this summer brought me to a point I could no longer deny.
A well-worn path is made by feet being placed one after another, in succession and over time. Easily over the course of my life, I have fallen nicely into the lineup of things. Freshly pressed cotton dresses by my mother, pantyhose that felt like the plague, and black patent leather shoes that I had to swear I would not scuff up from play were signatures of my time spent in church on Sunday mornings. I was given butterscotch Lifesavers during church so that I wouldn’t talk and ask too many questions. Until finally, with the best of intentions, I believed the message I was told. The message that church is what you do on a Sunday. It just is. God is happy with Christians when they go to church. And I wanted to make God happy but did not stop to realize that I went to building every week called “church” in lieu of having God live in my home. I existed in denial to the second class citizenship I had been given by the male patriarchy in my church. By all accounts, the people like me were nameless, hidden in the book I was memorizing and I was never told why. Why should they remain hidden, lost in the depths of time? Was this God’s will or the truth of humans telling a story in a real time and a real place? Could this forgottness express an even deeper truth of women? Denial shoved deep, only so I could become what I thought I should become, what I was told to become and in every sense have tried to become: a good, Sunday morning girl on whom should bear the fruit of a good wife and a good mother.
Until my heart longed for something more than just good.
Until I realized I was not seeking what the seekers before me sought, but only following a well-worn path by those along side of me.
“To find You I have to leave you” was my heart’s cry.
In early June, I left not just my church but the whole kit and kaboodle. If not forever, then at least for a year. Not because of a crisis of faith but a crisis for Faith. And not to become spiritual without the religion, but to cannonball into the divine depths of knowing where God is in all things and all things are in God. Could this even be true? Is it possible that heaven is now and I am unaware. Was there More?
I began walking in the summer instead of logging frequent flyer miles on a pew. Just walking in the woods, as far away as I could get from my daily life of asphalt and routine but not so far that I could not be reeled back in to meet the demands of house and home and the responsibilities that lie therein. Was I bold enough to assume that a tent of meeting would follow my head on any trail my feet touched or in the soft grasses on the floor of the ramshackle woods at the edge of my neighborhood? Was I crazy to assume that the whole universe was animated with the love of the Divine and every bird and flower trumpets thanksgiving? That in fact God wasn’t a dude with one rule book but a spirit that infuses Every Living Thing with great Love.
On my walks, I began to long to find feathers. To me, feathers represent a bit of heaven which falls softly to earth. Hidden, but my eye would find. They met me right where I was, in that moment. It wasn’t something that I said aloud or even articulated with coherency. Just a desire, a fancy, to look down and there by chance, was a bit of the heavens between twigs and mud.
Then I began finding feathers.
It seemed that no matter where I went, I found a feather. Feathers from many different types of birds strewn along my walks in the woods and on city sidewalks far from the reaches of branches with nests in them. I took them home and collected them in a small blue vase on my window sill in my kitchen.
Not every minute of every day is infused with Divine Longing. There are times we have to wait in line for our groceries. We need to put gas in our cars. Or take the trash out. We wait for so many things. We do so many small acts throughout our day. These are the seemingly mundane or off-line activities we consider out of the reach of the Divine. The bits and pieces that act as just filler for our day. Then there are those mundane moments we reach into for meaning just to be reminded it’s not all for naught. That perhaps there is More. That we are More and from More we might just return or at least, sing a bit of her melody while we’re on this planet.
“But how will I find you and how will I know it’s You?” became my question. One evening as we cruised from stoplight to stoplight on our way to dinner, the question resurfaced. While on the way to get Mexican food for dinner that night, I became increasingly uncomfortable and soon exhausted myself with this question and all the logical quibbles I could invent. I silently withdrew my desire to ponder this question and settled into a steady drip of conversation with my daughter about her day at school and if she liked the lunch I packed. As she sat sat in the passenger seat oblivious to my existential crisis, my silent heart continued to ripen with concern to the increasingly untethered feeling I was experiencing. I was homesick, but for a place I had never been.
We parked the car in front of the restaurant. We got out and on our way into the restaurant a man sitting at one of the tables outside asked me if I had any money that I could give to him to buy some food at the Walmart across the street.
His question took me a little bit by surprise but I responded and said “You know, I never carry cash any more. Sign of the times.” I wanted to look away, to turn back into the small details of my life that a second ago seemed so insignificant, and simply file this exchange away. I locked eyes with the door. Our pace quickened as we walked towards the restaurant.
From behind my shoulder he said “Thank you all the same.”
Then there was a deep piercing to my heart. One that leaked out in a way that is almost embarrassing in hindsight. I turned back and told the man that we were going inside and I could order him something to eat if he liked Mexican.
He said “Yes. Tacos. A taco with some chicken in it.”
I said “Of course. Anything to drink? Like water or tea.”
He replied “Some tea would be nice. Thank you.”
We went inside and we were seated at a table towards the back of the restaurant. I ordered the man’s food and asked that it be brought to him where he was sitting outside. I told them I would pay for it. The whole time, my own child said nothing about this exchange but silently bore witness to the need of another human. She is older now and not so full of questions about why the world is the way it is. We ordered and ate, discussing our day and making plans for all that needed to be accomplished when we got home to get ready for the next day.
I paid for the bill and we exited the restaurant. Still chattering about this and that we walked to our car, where I happened to look down to the ground next to my tire. There, between cigarette butts and grease stains was a feather. As I bent down to pick it up to take it home to add to my collection I heard from my right and from my left an ancient whisper: “I am not something you find, but something you bring. Just keep walking.”