Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Out on Highway 61

One evening last summer I pitched my tent along Highway 61, where the Sawtooth Mountains tumble into Lake Superior. My fire had burned to embers. The loons were quiet in the darkness. I zipped my sleeping bag and closed my eyes.

And then my heart began to race. Pounding apprehension in one of my favorite spots on earth.

This country, the North Shore of Lake Superior, is a source of spiritual power for me. The last glacier scraped its face like a dull razor, and even now, thousands of years after the ice melted, only gnarled cedars and stocky spruce grab the thin soil. No corn. No wheat. Just trees and stones.

You can't hide out on Highway 61. I love how this wilderness demands so much humility. This is a landscape where, like it or not, God speaks to you.

That long, restless night amid the pine and birch began what you've been reading for the past year on Dingo Prayer.

I started this blog in late 2009, and I occasionally published posts. But as I sat drinking coffee in the morning sunshine, I admitted to avoiding another spiritual path. I'd been feeling the urge to push my spiritual boundaries beyond my comfort zone, and then document those experiences on a regular basis. 

I'd felt a  similar restlessness in the past, notably before I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Back then, my body hummed like steel rails before a Soo Line freight, more excitement than fear. But now I knew the vulnerability such a path entailed: drawing closer to God always feels chancy. You never know what you're going to discover about yourself. Drawing closer to God and publicly writing about it is even chancier, because others can judge those experiences. What if people mocked me?

But I also recognized that Dingo Prayer might encourage readers to embrace their own spiritual search. That had always been my hope for the blog.

Bob Dylan, "Train Tracks"

It was time to make a wager. 'Ok God,' I thought that morning. 'I'll be part of this journey.'

And what a journey this year has been.

I began by exploring a forgotten family atrocity in ancient Scotland. I wondered how my direct ancestors, who for centuries had sponsored a religious order founded on the principles of peace and reconciliation, could also torch a church filled with their neighbors. Writing the piece was my exploration of love, anger, and reconciliation within both humanity and myself.

Next I made peace with a memory from Philadelphia, when I followed a man's trail of blood into place of deep spiritual darkness. Admitting to that painful time on Dingo Prayer is what opened my heart to new spiritual practices, like mindfulness meditation (see "Synchilla").

Later that fall I invited cookbook author and master baker Danny Klecko, the culinary entrepreneur behind St. Agnes Baking Co., to be a guest writer. His thoughtful contributions opened my eyes to how daily work can encompass one's spirituality, and I'm proud to call him a friend.

I wish I could write that my most popular post was on Bob Dylan and Lake Superior, but no: much to my surprise, close to a thousand people last April read about my awkward introduction to yoga in Downward-Facing Dingo. I learned that folks love the yoga.

This odyssey is teaching me, moment by moment, that essays on spirituality happen organically. I simply need to breathe and let God show me the way. Letting go of the creative process feels liberating. Letting go feels scary.

Letting go feels like prayer.

And so, a year after I began this journey, Dingo Prayer is going on retreat for the summer. Time for me to sit in silence.

Time, once again, to go out on Highway 61 and listen for what God has to say.