Monday, November 22, 2010

The Three Day Pilgrimage

So I'll start out by correcting myself...our "three-day pilgrimage" ended up to be more of a 40 hour pilgrimage. However, this is how it was planned...and I've had this title in my head for a while, and it's my blog, so I refuse to change it.

When I told people I was going on a three day pilgrimage to a shoe tree that may or may not be there in Eastern Oregon (8 hour drive away) some people thought it was weird, some people thought it was awesome, and most people just thought it "sounded like something I would do." (which I take as quite the compliment!). Going to this particular shoe tree is on my TDBD (to do before I die) list, so sounds like a good way to spend a weekend to me. We did A LOT of exciting things on our little pilgrimage, but more importantly than any one thing we did on this pilgrimage, is to explain why this is a "pilgrimage" and not a vacation. And, oddly enough, I plan on doing this through the introduction of ANOTHER book- this one by author (and super-hippy) Dan Austin- The Road Trip Pilgrim's Guide.

"So what is a pilgrimage? Well, the way I've come to understand it, you can take a trip or you can take a pilgrimage. You can escape from life or escape to it. You must always return from a vacation, but you never return from a pilgrimage quite the same...

though historically religious in nature, pilgrimages do not need to be holy quests. At its heart, a pilgrimage is a journey of importance, to the pilgrim and maybe no one else. Road trip spirituality is as unique as the person who seeks it, often having little to do with any prescribed path. After all, most religions were started by vagabonds, mavericks, and idealistic visionaries with no great love for bureaucracy...

Your pilgrimage could involve fasting, penitence, and self-flagellation (not flatulation ;) hehe). But it could-should-also involve falling in love, dancing all night long, sleeping on the beach, reading Jacques Prevert, biking through torrential rain, crying your eyes out at something so beautiful (or so tragic), crashing with locals, breaking laws, sleeping in hammocks, guzzling Guinness, hitting midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, sleeping in banana fields, making out on top of Mayan temples, indulging in a Japanese onsen, and ultimately, finding that grail of happiness and meaning: truth to self."

So this is where the idea got started. I don't think enough people feel this way- and I feel like its almost faux pas to say so....but I LOVE MY LIFE. I love my life as imperfect, unstable, sometimes hectic, sometimes monotonous, and as average as it is. What other point is there in life if not to love it? I don't want an escape from my life. There is a quote that reminds me of this sad but abundant faux pas in our society, made famous by Nelson Mandela, that may be one of my favorites:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

People too often downplay their strengths and play off their weaknesses- because "who are they" to be that person. Well...who are they not to be? So anyways, all of that to say I don't want to escape from my life- I want every experience I have and every breathe I take to be PART of this thing called life. I don't want a trip to get a "break" from life- I want a trip to redefine who I am. I want to, every day of my life, walk away from the person I once was and become the person I will be.

So my pilgrimage involved driving through the night (well, passengering through the night), sleeping in a car in 20 degree weather, eating apple pie at 8 am, driving ten miles down a dirt road to knock on a cousin of a customer's door (second house to the left past the cattle grate ten miles down the dirt road across from the red church)- to be graciously invited in, fed calf testicles, and be put to work "fly-swattin' and feedin' cattle", wading a freezing cold river to get to a hot springs in the middle of the high desert, starting our own shoe tree, standing next to Lincoln (statue...not the man... sorry) in downtown Boise on a platform reciting the Gettysburg Address, illegally ringing Idaho's liberty bell, spending an uninterrupted two days with one of my best friends, and feeling the freedom that you only feel when you have no plans attached to your plans.

Long story short, my purpose of the trip was never techincally reached. The shoe tree in Juntura, OR died a couple years ago and was removed from the site. Tammy the waitress showed us a framed picture on the wall of the shoe tree that once was. RIP. However, this is where sometimes life throws you a curveball and thankfully my list is not a static process. I am hence forth changing number 47 on my list from "throw a pair of shoes on the shoe tree in Juntura" to "start my own shoe tree".

So do me a favor if you're ever driving down Highway 20 outside of Juntura, Oregon. Turn off just west of milepost 20, follow the dirt road by the river until it ends (about a mile), look out across the river to see the steam rising from the hot springs- and notice that big tree next to you. Looking up, you will hopefully see an old pair of Converse and some Sketchers tangled in the branches. Since every shoe tree has to have a purpose, use some old sneaker to cross that ridiculously cold river that takes you to the most beautiful hot springs I have ever seen. When you cross back, just make sure to toss those old sneakers up on the tree for me. I'll be back in one year to check.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Live Bigger

So, soon enough I'll put on here my list of ALMOST a hundred things I want to do (am going to do) before I die. Everyone who knows me well knows I'm pretty obsessed with list making...but I love it. I love the simplicity of lists because I'm not the least bit of an organized person- but they help me feel like it somehow. And what better kind of list to carry around with you everywhere than a list that reminds me what I want out of my life? Before I put my list up, however, I want to start with an Intro. Its not mine, exactly (not mine at all, actually)....but it inspires me in so many different ways. An old friend of mine once told me
"This world is only as big as we make it." world is going to be huge.


Donald Miller (Portland author)- Through Painted Deserts

It is fall here now, my favorite of the four seasons. We get all four here, and they come at us under the doors, in through the windows. One morning you wake and need blankets; you take the fan out of the window to see clouds that mist out by midmorning, only to reveal a naked blue coolness like God yawning.

September is perfect Oregon. The blocks line up like postcards and the rosebuds bloom into themselves like children at bedtime. And in Portland we are proud of our roses; year after year, we are proud of them. When they are done, we sit in the parks and read stories into the air, whispering the gardens to sleep.

I come here, to Palio Coffee, for the big windows. If I sit outside, the sun gets on my computer screen, so I come inside, to this same table, and sit alongside the giant panes of glass. And it is like a movie out there, like a big screen of green, and today there is a man in shepher's clothes, a hippie, all dirty, with a downed bike in the circle lawn across the street. He is eating bread from the bakery and drinking from a metal camp cup. he is tapping the cup against his leg, sitting like a monk, all striped in fabric. I wonder if he is happy, his blanket strapped to the rack on his bike, his no home, his no job. I wonder if he has left it all because he hated it or because it hated him. It is true some do not do well with conventional life. They think outside things and can't make sense of following a line. They see no walls, only doors from open space to open space, and from open space, supposedly, to the mind of God, or at least this is what we hope for them, and what they hope for themselves.

I remember the sweet sensation of leaving, years ago, some ten now, leaving Texas for who knows where. I could not have known about this beautiful place, the Oregon I have come to love, this city of great people, this smell of coffee and these evergreens reaching up into a mist of sky, these sunsets spilling over the west hills to slide a red glow down the streets of my town.

And I could not have known then that if I had been born here, I would have left here, gone someplace south to deal with horses, to get on some open land where you can see tomorrow's storm brewing over a high desert. I could not have known then that everybody, every person, has to leave, has to change like seasons; they have to or they die. The seasons remind me that I must keep changing, and I want to change because it is God's way. All my life I have been changing. I changed from a baby to a child, from soft toys to play daggers. I changed into a teenager to drive a car, into a worker to spend some money. I will change into a husband to love a woman, into a father to love a child, change houses so we are near water, and again so we are near mountains, and again so we are near friends, keep changing with my wife, getting our love so it dies and gets born again and again, like a garden, fed by four seasons, a cycle of change. Everybody has to change, or they expire. Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.

I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it is time for tthings to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.

Only the good stories have the characters different at the end than they were at the beginning. And the closest thing I can liken life to is a book, they way it streches out on paper, page after page, as if to trick the mind into thinking it isn't all happening at once.

Time has pressed you and me into a book, too, this tiny chapter we share together, this vapor of a scene, pulling our seconds into minutes and minutes into hours. Everything we were is no more, and what we will become, will become what was. This is from where story stems, the stuff of its construction lying at our feet like cut strips of philosophy. I sometimes look into the endless heavens, the cosmos of which we can't find the edge, and ask God what it means. Did You really do all of this to dazzle us? Do You really keep it shifting, rolling round the pinions to stave off boredom? God forbid Your glory would be our distraction. And God forbid we would ignore Your glory.

Here is something I foundto be true: you don't start processing death until you turn thirty. I live in visions, for instance, and they are cast out some fifty years, and just now, just last year I ralized my visions were cast too far, they were out beyond my life span. It frightened me to think of it, that I passed up an early marriage or children to write these silly books, that I bought the lie that the academic life had to be seperate from relational experience, as though God only wanted us to learn cognitive ideas, as if the heart of a man were only created to resonate with movies. No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath:
I'll tell you how the sun rose
A ribbon at a time....

It's a living book, this life; it folds out in a million settings, cast with a billion beautiful characters, and it is almost over for you. It doesn't matter how old you are; it is coming to a close quickly, and soon the credits will roll and all your friends will fold out of your funeral and drive back to their homes in cold and still and silence. And they will make a fire and pour some wine and think about how you once were...and feel a kind of sickness at the idea you never again will be.

So soon you will be in that part of the book where you are holding the bulk of the pages in your left hand, and only a thin wisp of the story in your right. You will know by the page count, not by the narrative, that the Author is wrapping things up. You begin to mourn its ending, and want to pace yourself slowly toward its closure, knowing the last lines will speak of something long and earned, and you hope the things closes out like last breaths, like whispers about how much and who the characters have come to love, and how authentic the sentiment feel when they have earned a hundred pages of qualification.

And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children at play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn't it?

It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you:


Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn't it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.