Friday, December 9, 2016

Hermitage II: Paths and Road Maps

I remember, decades ago, joking with friends in college about the words of a fundamentalist Sunday School song: “I’m using my Bible for a road map.” Already when I was twenty, it seemed like a bad metaphor to live by. Looking back now, I see that I needed humor as a way of defending myself against claims of biblical literalism: perhaps I still had misgivings at gut level that maybe Jerry Falwell and his crew were right.

Long since, I’ve pulled  far away from the notion that Scripture (of any tradition) could function as instructions-in-advance for how to live from day to day. I no longer spend much time dwelling on whether other people still believe that. Except that I know how much damage it does in the world to have fundamentalists loose in it, raising kids, running school boards and local governments--and coming to wield increased influence as well at a national level. Or for that matter, declaring brutally repressive caliphates, or justifying the seizure of Palestinian land. 

I’m sitting at the kitchen table of the cabin I’ve rented to allow myself a week’s retreat. I’m gazing out at the Indiana woods of my childhood. Speaking of fundamentalists: the smiling, photogenic, soft-spoken fascist governor of this state will become Vice-President in six weeks. A heartbeat away from the office that will be occupied by a narcissistic charlatan who’s currently conducting the selection of his cabinet like another season of The Apprentice. 

Sometimes, in the interest of keeping hope alive and saving strength to contribute to the next struggle,  in however small a way you can, you just have to detach from what’s happened to the level of public life, and go inward for a while. That’s what I came here for.
The wood stove in the middle of the room is softly whistling as it draws air. There’s a nuthatch outside doing laps around the trunk of a hickory tree. Later I’ll warm up soup for dinner. I’ll go on writing, perhaps read, perhaps use the Tarot to help me look at something in my life a little differently. At the end of the week, I’ll spend an hour in meditation in front of my altar, before I disassemble it and pack my belongings to head back to the bland sanity of Canada before dawn. 

Earlier this afternoon, in the best light the day had to offer, I went for a walk along Trail Number 3 through the state park where I’ve rented my hermitage-for-a-week. I found great pleasure in (a) not knowing where I was going and (b) trusting that someone did, who long ago groomed the trail. It felt like gift and adventure to see only ten or twenty paces at a time ahead of my feet. 

Maybe I started contemplating the difference between road maps and paths because the road ran parallel to the trail for a good fifteen minutes, curving up the same rise, twisting back again, before I finally headed off down another slope toward a steep ravine where a rivulet laughed underneath a footbridge. In any case, I’ve come to a point in my life where spiritually, as well as literally, it feels both more honest and more satisfying to walk a path on which I know only as much of the route as I need in order to take my next steps, in trust that somehow, I’ll go on finding myself where I’m supposed to be.

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