Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Be like water flowing...

Water. My word for the year. I began 2010 by taking solo winter walks along the shore not so far from my house. As the year draws to a close, I find myself nestled into a friend's seaside cabin with my beloved husband. Water has greeted me with her fluid mystery and manifested in ways I could never have imagined. My winter vacation included a lesson in surfing and a mesmerizing experience with a sea turtle. Who would have thought that my annual trip to Bermuda (an island surrounded by Caribbean sea) would be traded in for a journey to the Sinai desert - especially in the year of water? I've learned throughout the year to "go with the flow" and as 2010 sails to a close, having rushed by like a flash flood, I find myself grateful for the seas I have traveled this year.

A favorite story crossed my path a few days ago. It is the tale of a man who has the choice between a map and a boat to accompany him on his journey. Choosing the boat, the grand master offers these words - "You are the boat. Life is the sea." Wherever we find our center (our boat), we have the ability to go with the flow, weather the storms and enjoy the immensity of life. My boat has carried me well this year. I've patched it when necessary and provided a new coat of paint or two to spiff things up - always remembering it's very important to care for my vessel! New journeys are on the horizon for 2011 and I look forward to cracking the champagne across the bow as we embark for the new year.

My word(s) for 2011 have already bobbed to the surface. However, today as I watch the mighty wind push the waves across the Sound, water deserves its honor. Stay tuned for the 2011 word announcement!! My prayer, for now, is to continue to be like water flowing and see what fills my cup in the days and weeks to come.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bullies in Disguise

Layers and layers of discovery. I move. I rest. I pause. The layers shift and morph. Refining my way toward freedom. Awhile back I had a memory arise and while I’m not sure it’s an actual event, I don’t know why I would have made it up – unless, of course, I needed it to help me with something else.

The scene is pretty precise. I’m 6 years old and in the first grade. I’m in the narrow cloak closet at school and we’ve just come in from recess. I can smell the damp coats and feel someone behind me pressing my face into them. It’s another child, I’m certain. I can’t breathe. A vise-like grip deepens on the sides of my throat – pudgy fingers, I think. My fear tightens as a knee or elbow presses into my spine, stuffing my face further into the darkness of the fabric. The bully tells me to “Stay quiet, or else.” My nostrils fill with the acrid smell of wet wool. I want to scream, but my mouth is buried and the words won’t come. Suddenly, there’s a flurry of activity and the grip releases, the pressure comes out of my back. I’m alone and disheveled in the closet. No real harm, right?

The metaphor to my life is immense. The internal struggles over voice, aloneness and importance are core. They are battles I’ve been peeling the layers off for years. They move and shift and morph. Recently, I’ve had a grown-up bully attempting to put the vise-like grip on my authentic self. (S)he came disguised as someone who wanted my help (which is very seductive for a caregiver.) How long would I allow the knee to press into my back and stifle the scream rising in my chest? It wasn’t until I invited this person to leave that clarity came and I felt the relief of speaking up for what I wanted and needed. The pressure released and I was not alone.

This week in my Advent retreat, we are pondering what it means to say, “Yes.” What is the risk? Will you say yes to your longings? For a moment just ponder the danger of continually saying, “No” to your heart’s desire.

Risk

What does it mean to ask for what I want?

I asked and I received.

Writing. Reading. Creating.

Say Yes!

I asked and I received.

Don’t limit.

Say Yes!

The shadow is the bully.

Don’t limit

My writing, reading, creating.

The shadow is the bully.

What does it mean to ask for what I want?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Advent Prayer

Allow me to see the face of this day
Let me enter into each space with intention
Crossing the Holy thresholds
Touching the Ancient stones

Let me enter into each space with intention
Do not allow me to cloud my own vision
Touching the Ancient stones
I will be the face of this day

Do not allow me to cloud my own vision
Crossing the Holy thresholds
I will be the face of this day
Allow me to see the precious face of this day

© Kayce Stevens Hughlett

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Winding Journey

As I read today's Advent reflection from Birthing the Holy including a poem by Linda Hogan*, I was reminded of a SoulCollage® card I created awhile back. Pulling it out, I began to write and noticed the weavings of this season begin to take shape and offer me this message:


I am one who stands at the threshold.
The cave of death surrounds me - death to past.
The Ancient bones beckon me and tell me to follow my dreams. I am in good company.
If I will raise my eyes to the heavens, I will see the light ahead.

It has been a winding journey - and will continue to be,
but the Ancients are with me and the river is flowing -
"It doesn't look back to where it's been or wonder who ahead of it has polished the rough stones.
It is following the path in its fullness"
*
And it's time for me to do the same.

Don't look back.
Raise your eyes and see the expanse before you.
The Ancients are with you. God is with you.
Lift your eyes to the heavens -
to new life.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Anyone There?

Themes of birth, awakening and mothers float through my mind. Vivid dreams invade my night and wake me like a whisper from my sleep. I roll over, turn off the alarm and sink into that space where dreamland meets dawn. The space between past, present and future cannot be delineated and my earliest memory drifts into now. I am older than one and younger than two. Standing in my crib with an earnest look on my face, I am not crying or distressed. I appear to be reaching, perhaps not with my arms, but only with my eyes. Anyone there? My eyes stretch into the room beyond the recesses of my barred bed and beckon, Anyone there?

Isn't that the question I still ask today? In times of lament, I turn to the ancient lie I tell myself. I am not important. I will always be alone. Was no one there? Sharing my 10 year old brother's room, I wonder if he resented my presence from the beginning. I recall the black eye my mother received when she bumped the door jamb during a nightly visit to me. Would she return again?

So odd, these memories. So very interesting. Anyone there is what I continue to ask today. Will you read my work? Hold my hand? Laugh at my jokes? Kiss my lips? Notice my hair? Anyone there? Are you paying attention? Do you see me? Is it possible I still carry the look of a one year old standing in her crib - reaching and searching for connection. Anyone there?

What are the questions you ask yourself or the lies you whisper when past & present merge?

photo - Paris

Monday, November 29, 2010

Kooky Space

Advent has begun. I find myself in a kooky space - in a place of expansion and community AND in a time when I am called to simply Be. There's my word again, BE... BEE... The bee is a long-time symbol of accomplishing the impossible. How does one wait in the darkness and shine in the heavens... simultaneously?

I'm called to be in community and I'm called to be in contemplation. I'm called to shine and I long to sit in the darkness - waiting in the shadows - percolating - ripening in the womb. Yes, Advent carries a theme of birthing. Does not the fetus ripen within the womb? Did not Mary say, "Yes" and then wait? We wait. I wait.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fetish Focus

DiLoPi writing prompt #9 - Write about a fetish, totem, "blankie" or other centering object that you have a) owned and revered at one time or 2) currently own and revere or 3) that your character owns and reveres or 4) that you wish you owned and revered.

Earlier this morning I was writing about being infused with thoughts or images that pass our way. We don't necessarily know they've even entered our consciousness until they pop out somewhere down the road. Continuing my journaling, I ultimately found myself answering the above writing prompt that recently showed up in my mailbox. Here is what I mused:

Starting my day with news and distractions, doesn't work for me. If I first open up my e-mail, then I'm off down a rabbit trail that often takes me away from a life-giving focus. Even though good stuff abounds - if the computer is my first default - I'm off on the circuitous trail that beckons and pulls. The flashing images are seductive. My iPad and iPod lie next to me and my MacBook is just across the room. Oh my, have they become my fetish?

Oh, the seductiveness of this technology. I curl up in bed seeking warmth and comfort. The devices call to me and promise excitement, community, new information - even devotions. I meet my friends there. My sister - fellow bloggers - the characters in Grey's Anatomy. Christine brings morning greetings and DiLoPi offers writing prompts.


When I'm lonely and bored or wanting to distract myself, I reach for a little piece of technology. I decide it's time to work or create, possibly both together. So, I turn on that glowing screen. For a moment, I choose to pass the beckoning e-mail, but... I know it's there. Just one peek? Perhaps a quick look? I tell myself. And... once I succumb, I've lost my own momentum. A force other than I has taken over and I'm off down the rabbit trail. Minutes turn into hours and ultimately a day. Frustrated with my lack of accomplishment, I turn for the comfort of more surfing. Perhaps just a blog site or two? Maybe a stop by the forum at SCS?


Will I be satisfied? It's a crap shoot - especially when I reach without forethought. I stuff another URL into my brain like stale cookies I can't even taste. I know this, and still I'm like a zombie drawn to fresh blood. The blink of the light. The push of a button. Just one more taste...

My fetish? I've vowed to turn let it go or at least I'm taking back control. I'll choose to curl up with a book instead of my iPad. No e-mail before meditation or morning pages. No infusion without first checking in with there I am! The news can wait 30 more minutes. I'm learning to block the path of the rabbit trail with timers, boundaries & mindfulness. Finding where technology nourishes me rather than allowing it to become obsession. That's often the problem with a "good" or favorite thing. We manage to manipulate it and cross the line into over-indulgence until it turns into something we don't love quite so much. Hmmmm... Gotta stop now and see what my iDictionary says about fetish :)


fetish: any object eliciting unquestioning reverence, respect or devotion

snowy pictures from 2008 - although I'm looking out the window in WallaWalla where it's snowing right now.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Retreat, Relax, Respond TODAY!!!

Registration for the Online Advent Retreat ends tomorrow!



Birthing the Holy: An Online Creative Journey through Advent and Christmas
November 28, 2010 - January 9, 2011
Program fee of $125 includes weekly reflections and daily emails by Christine Paintner on six themes of the creative journey, plus 10 songs by River's Voice, guided movement prayer videos by Betsey Beckman and her storydance of the Annunciation, and guided SoulCollage® experiences with Kayce Stevens Hughlett.

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God.
-Meister Eckhart (15th century German mystic)

Each of us is called to participate in bringing God to birth in the world. We each hear our own annunciations and invitations to enflesh the sacred creative call of our hearts in service to others. The seasons of Advent and Christmas invite us into a profound reflection on this invitation and the movement toward birthing as well as offer us archetypal themes that call us to take our creativity seriously.

Do you long to make the seasons of Advent and Christmas a more meaningful time of prayer and reflection?

Do you want to make space to listen to your deepest call in this season of birthing?

Join me along with some very special guest teachers, musicians, dancers, and artists, for a six-week creative online journey into the heart of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Through movement, music, visual expression, poetry, and prayer you will be guided in reflection on six themes of the creative journey. Make a commitment to a retreat in everyday life and let this winter be a journey of transformation. Begin the New Year from a place of deep reflection and intention.

Saturday, November 27th is the last day to register!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Can You Plan Destiny?

My last post ended with the words, "I'm off to plan my destiny." Can one really plan their own destiny? I truly love the idea of letting go and allowing surprise to happen. I am also discovering that my nature actually enjoys some discipline in the process of going with the flow. Impossible? Well, consider this: a river has banks; the oceans have shores; showers have stalls. Even where water is concerned there are some boundaries.

For the last couple of weeks (since attending the fabulous DiLoPi workshop), I have created a lovely rhythm for my days. In the past, I've typically awakened without alarm, structured my schedule around "official" appointments and hoped I would accomplish all of the other things I wanted to do during the time in between. What I found was there was never much (if any) time to work on my passions. In other words, going with the flow allowed my dreams to get washed down the drain or at least soaked to the bone. The rhythm I established looked something like this:

Meditate
Morning pages
Book writing
Get ready for work
"Official" Meetings
Exercise
Creative work
Family time
Read & Rest

What I found was there was almost always time for everything and then some. By setting both specific times to do things and holding to the boundaries, my satisfaction level, as well as my productivity, went way up! So, why am I talking about this in past tense? Because Sunday, I failed to set up the boundaries and decided to go with the flow. Big mistake!! I made it through my first two items beautifully and then frittered away the rest of the day. I ended up feeling like a slug and just a pinch of salt could dissolve all of the goodwill I'd been developing toward myself for the last several weeks. Geez Louise, it's so easy to slip into old patterns! And, once I'm aware of what I'm doing, it's possible to dry myself off and jump back in the flow.

Planning my destiny? How about if I start by planning one moment at a time? I'll let you know how that goes.

So... what are you planning today?

photos ©Ireland, 2009

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is God a Giant Ouija Board?

What are the questions I'm most curious about these days? Well, they're probably the things I'm curious about a significant portion of the time. Career. Time. Money. Relationship. God. Not always in that order. Is this for me? Am I on the right path? Was that a good decision? Did I do a caring thing? Am I ok? Oh my, it feels like I'm 10 years old again and playing with a Ouija board.

Ouija boards and Magic 8-Balls - maybe they do hold all the answers. Will I be rich? Absolutely. Will I be famous? You bet. Does God exist? Ask again. Oh boy, do we ever get past that fascination with wanting the answers? By asking questions do we treat the Universe/Higher Power/God like a giant Ouija board? Asking for an answer and anticipating the answer we want to hear. Manipulating the planchette and acting like we're not. Pretending we've let go of control when, in fact, there is no way we'll take our last finger out of the game.

What might it take to release and let go? What is our role in the grand plan? I remember a friend telling me a story I'll never forget. She had a college roommate who had a big exam coming up and didn't even study, then wondered why she failed the exam even though she'd prayed really hard. Is God our Magic 8-Ball? Are the answers right in front of us? Again, what's our role? I know if I sit around and eat chocolate all day I'm going to get fat. Do I know if I work really hard it will pay off? It depends on how I define "pay off". If I already have the answer planned then I may be disappointed, but if I let go of the Ouija board then I might be delightfully surprised by what happens.

What are your burning questions today? Do you need a speedy answer or are you willing to wait for the surprise? Will you study for your exam, sit back and eat chocolates or jump in the game?

Life coach Martha Beck says, "Listening to that mystical frequency, while staying safely grounded in logical and pragmatic action, is the key to planning the path of your best destiny."

I invite you to ponder that today. Me? I'm off to plan my destiny :-)

photos from St. Catherine's Monastery ©2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Riding the Wave of Breath

Before daybreak and slightly bleary-eyed from my night's sleep, I enter my studio. Touching match to wick, the soft glow of candlelight enters the room and morning shadows dance across the walls. Tenderly I curl myself into a comfortable cross-legged position, close my eyes ever so slightly and offer myself to this new day.

Inhale. Exhale. I ride the wave of my breath. As I meditate, there are moments where my curiosity stirs and I wonder from where this tranquility comes. I sit in silence and follow my breath. In. Out. One. Two. Three. Four. My body settles into a gentle rhythm. With the inhale, I hear the sound of wind through aspens. On the exhale, a storm is brewing in the midwest. My thoughts float by like gentle clouds on a summer day. Grounded. Breathing. Simple. I am tranquil. Again, I wonder how I got to this place until even that thought drifts on by. In. Out. One. Two. Three. Four.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sometimes you take my breath away...

There are moments in life that simply take my breath away. It’s hard to know where they begin or how I arrive at the place I am called, but in those moments, I know I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. A power greater than I has brought me to that place. Some of the moments are so subtle they would be easy to dismiss. It’s similar to that feeling when the phone rings and you know who’s on the line before you pick up the phone.

One of those moments found me yesterday. It was a gorgeous day here in Seattle. The heavy rains lifted and the skies turned cornflower blue without a cloud to be seen. My body craved to be out in the fresh air and fortunately my schedule allowed the space to be. One of my favorite kind of walks is what I call destination walking. It’s particularly helpful when I feel like I have a lot to do, because it gives me both a break and I accomplish something. This morning I ventured to the bank while listening to a conference call. Multi-tasking at its best ☺.

With ten dollars in my pocket for coffee, I exited the bank and took my normal right turn toward Tully’s, but something inside winked at me and said – Let’s go somewhere different today. Doing a 180 degree turn, I headed back down the street and came to a shop I rarely frequent. The barista was smiling, the coffee delicious. While waiting for my latte, I glanced around the cafĂ© noticing the wonderful trinkets, artisan cards and fuchsia tutu pulled over a t-shirt. With little money in my pocket, I resisted the urge to fully browse until a glittering display of necklaces caught my eye.

Coffee in hand, I turned to make my exit, but couldn’t resist the pull to take just a peek. Each necklace was like a little story on a chain. The first (and only) one into my hand contained the single word BE encased in a golden sparkly bubble. Next to the bubble were two other charms – a bee and a flower. This is the moment my breath caught. Here on one simple chain were the three lasting symbols from my Egyptian pilgrimage – word, flower, bee. The necklace was made just for me.

What’s a girl to do? No money – no real need for another necklace. They’re just things on a chain, right? So, I headed out the door back into the sunshine, sipped my latte and tried to memorize the designer’s name until I got home. Peeking at her wonderful website, my heart stopped again when I realized maybe that necklace was made JUST FOR ME, because there wasn’t another one like it on her site. Well, you have to know the rest of the story, because the picture here has given it away. The necklace is now mine and I will wear it as a proud reminder (one that came in loud and clear while on pilgrimage). It is time to BEEEEEEEEE… and all that entails for Me!!

So… I’d love to know what are your moments of simple or sublime synchronicity and serendipity? When you hear a tug that says turn around or do something different, do you listen? Who knows? You could be missing out on something made Just for You!!

photos taken 11.11.10 © lucy

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fondling a Story

Oohhh, baby, have things been stirring for me since attending "Walking into Fire." I'm moving from playing with this idea of being a writer into seeing what it feels like to live into it. My morning routine has shifted and I've added meditation into my practice and have revived my relationship with morning pages. It's like picking back up with a long lost friend - there's no lag in the conversation and topics bounce all over the place.

I'm resisting the urge to censor and refine my words here, because this is not the place for my "polished" work. Here is where I move one step up from morning pages and meet the discipline (& fear) of putting something out into the world. I'm also doing it without much thought (really?)WAAAYYY to whether or not anyone reads - even though I've noticed my reader comments are down. Oh those pesky little voices that keep us from moving forward, huh?

During the retreat on Saturday we were asked the question "What is my story as writer" in line with having a FALSE investment. This reminded me of a phrase used in Steering by Starlight called "story fondlers" referring to people who hang onto stories that keep them stuck and not moving forward. This morning I thought I'd share my personal response. It is so like my life (not surprising), because there are bits of truth woven in with a whole lot of you've-got-to-be-kidding-me!!

Writers are brilliant and know what they're going to say before they ever start writing. They understand their plot and characters and the work comes easily to them. All it takes is setting aside the time and their story will come out with little need for revision and filling in the blanks. Their stories come out rich and developed and ready for copy editing. The words flow like water and the structure falls into place without blood, sweat and tears. They send their manuscript off to be received by every publishing house they submit to.

Well, that's my story and I'm NOT sticking to it - except of course that writers ARE brilliant!! In the meantime, I'll continue to tweak my schedule, listen to my gut and WRITE!!

So, my dear friends. What's the story you fondle that keeps you from living your brilliant life?

"Steppin' out" - © lucy 2010

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Brain Washed - part deux

As I look at the list of things I’d like to remember, there is a theme that runs through my memory beginning with the sun on my skin and ending with the weight of heartache. Warmth is the word that comes to mind…and Sensual.

I am a sensual being. I cannot live – truly live – (nor would I care too) without the memory of my senses – the sun on my skin, the hot breath of my old Golden Retriever, the cozy comfort of a warm bed when the nip of winter pricks at my nose.

I am a being who loves to spread her arms – her angel’s wings – wide open, embracing and welcoming adventure and creativity. Near the top of my list is my trilogy of pilgrimages – Paris, Ireland, Egypt. Each came wrapped in its own shimmering tissue paper, waiting to unfold with unique footsteps along my path.

Who knew I was a woman craving warmth? Is that what passion evokes in me? Heat? The feel of the desert air upon my Pacific Northwest skin. The allure of Parisian cafes and language dripping in romance. The warmth of a pint of Guinness sipped from a frothy mug in a cozy tavern surrounded by laughter and friends.

Heat draws me forth and pushes me outside myself. It beckons me toward the core of my being which is hot as fire. A shimmering star. Fully me – laughing and shining. Can warmth get any broader than that?

Heat draws me forth and pushes me out. The blood rising in my chest and pumping at rapid speed through my veins while standing in the open door of an airplane at 10,000 feet. “Do or die,” my heart says. I feel the breeze on my skin, whoosh of air rushing at the speed which keeps an airplane afloat. My senses expand and it’s time to trust. “Bend like a banana,” says my hunkie angel and the blood rushes from my face as we free-fall in the autumn air. All senses are alert. The arms of God are holding me now. The taste of fear has left my mouth. The whoosh is all I hear. My skin is brushed with evening sunlight and my eyes take in the Washington panorama with rapid-speed slow motion. I am a sensual woman.

What of the other things on my list? Humidity and heartache. Sand and sea. Parenting and pendulum. My list is made of senses and experiences, not necessarily people and places. Hmmmm. I am not a collector of things – not a material girl as Madonna might suggest. I love experience. I love heat. I am not afraid to walk into fire. These are the things I can write about, because I have been present to them. I’ve shown up for my life – not always, for sure – but perhaps that is why the experiences are so important to remember. Perhaps that is my legacy. I want them written down, because I don’t want to forget. That was the prompt after all, wasn’t it? Your memory will be erased in 5 minutes. So, if I remember…

the sun on my skin then I will always know what it is to be warm. If I remember the kiss of my husband, the hugs of my children and my sister’s unconditional love, then they will be with me always. To remember the Sinai desert is to speak of clarity and timelessness. Paris offers rhythm and independence. Ireland teaches me what it is to heal. The ineffable moments speak of a power greater than I – shall I call this God, Universe, or something more?

Curry’s breath and Aslan’s purr show me the wisdom of being in the moment and the power to simply Be. Knowing my truth lets me rest in that being, if only for nana-seconds that speak of an all-knowing One. The drop of the skydive shows me that fear can be faced and turned into exhilarating joy and power. The ocean on my skin, sand in my toes and Bermuda blue offer tranquility and calm with just a touch of unsurety.

Humidity in Oklahoma, mosquito bites and climbing Mt. Sinai, all share a measure of pain, but without that pain I would not be who I am today. And, speaking of pain comes with the reality of childbirth and the heartache of parenting – the arrest of a child, the separation from a soul mate.

My coffers are full and the pendulum swings from joy to sorrow and back again. Light turns to darkness. Fear turns to self-love. The senses wrap me in life. If this is what I could remember, it would be enough – more than enough.

So, have you made your own list yet? Quick... your memory will be erased in five minutes, what will you choose to remember?


soulcollage cards ©ksh

Brain Washed

Yesterday while attending a brilliant writing retreat, we were given a prompt by the charming Patti Digh that went something like this: In five minutes your brain will be erased, what do you want to remember? As you might imagine an interesting flow opened up. As I sat down this morning, I didn’t particularly intend to share my list, however, it seems important for me (not necessarily you – sorry, dear reader, but I am writing for me). My inner muse says, “Write this down and capture it again.” So here goes, remember this, lucy:

Sun on my skin; the kiss of my husband; hugs of my children; the Sinai Desert; Paris; Ireland; God; ineffable moments; Curry’s breath; Aslan’s purr; knowing my truth; feeling the love of God; the drop of the skydive; the ocean on my skin; sand in my toes; Bermuda blue; humidity in Oklahoma; Egyptian mosquito bites; climbing Sinai; my children being born; the heartache of arrest & addiction; jammy days and Gilmore girls; Soltura Island; the Big Dipper; falling stars; freedom; strength in my body; the love of being seen; bees in the desert; satisfaction of a job well-done; comfort of a cozy bed; that my parents loved me; my sister’s unconditional love; seeing and being seen; the smell of rosemary; the weight of heartache; the swing of the pendulum

Undoubtedly there are things I’ve missed or left out - we had only five minutes, you know? Nonetheless, as I expanded further on these thoughts in another free write, my finishing words became:

If this is what I could remember, it would be enough… more than enough.

Your turn… In five minutes your brain will be erased, what do you want to remember? What would be enough?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Timeless Truth

Slowly, slowly I am revisiting my desert journals and bringing the pages to light. The following words were written the day after climbing Mt. Sinai while continuing our visit at St. Catherine's Monastery.

9.27.10 Early morning
Time does strange things here, and we haven't even gone into the raw wilderness yet. We lie wrapped in cocoons of comfort - warm beds, air-conditioning, a roof over our heads. We are wandering, yet... Something ties us here. What? What do I mean? Let go. I'm tied to my watch and the sense of a certain number of hours of sleep I need. I am tied to the group and the roommate who sleeps beside me. Tied to the convention of the world - the rhythms of others.

I awoke sometime during the night and thought it was morning - thought my roommate was already up and in the shower. I felt rested and ready to start the day. Then I looked at my watch and saw it was still the middle of the night, so I "knew"/thought I should go back to sleep. A similar thing happened the night before. I awoke feeling as though I had slept for hours and realized it had been maybe one or two. Am I so stuck by conventions of time and space? What does it take to let go?

What does all this mean? In Paris, I found my own rhythms - some nights I watched movies until the wee hours. Others I slept early in the evening. Yesterday, a quick nap after climbing Mt. Sinai felt like ten hours of hard sleep. Is that the timelessness of which we speak? Where the telling of a story days before combines with the clicking of hiking sticks to become weaver's needles and our pilgrims' steps of today merge with centuries of others' who have gone before? Did our climbing footsteps encounter the imprint's of Moses? Was my hand holding the palm of an ancient Egyptian or perhaps even God herself when I pressed my fingers into the stone inside the pyramid?

The messages are myriad. Can I decipher them or am I called to let the mystery be? What is truth? Truth comes in moments. It came when I looked into the eyes of the Sinai Christ and know he beckons me. When my fellow pilgrim hours later described the same experience and in one moment we know and we are known. Truth comes when I hear our prayer warrior describe her call for us to have the angels lift us up when we are weary and I remember and know those angels were there. Truth arises when our resident yoga master subtly mentions @ Camelot - "Do you know why camel pose is called camel pose? It's not only for the hump, but also for the kneeling," and then I share with her my "camel" journey over the past months - struggling, breathing,being curious and ultimately having two beautiful camel poses the week before this trip. In that moment, she knows why she said those words to me and not someone else. We are united in ways we cannot fathom.

"I want to hear, and I want to be heard,
I want to eat, and I want to be fed,
I want to be made whole , and I want to make whole,
I want to be united, and I want to unite." Acts of John - Christ Hymn - 3rd Century CE

The longings of our heart cross centuries - cross time. Some say there is no such thing as time. The weaving of the tapestry - the carpet laid out before us by Abraham in his tent at Camelot. We are being woven together in a new story. This sweet band of pilgrims.

Have you ever experienced that sense of timelessness? Those moments of truth where words are not needed to 'Know'? Yesterday, a friend asked me what was the gift I received in the desert. Timelessness was the word that rose to the top. Timeless Truth.

photos ©lucy:

view from St. Catherine's courtyard

Sinai Christ
Abraham's tapestry


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shadow

You must make friends with the shadow or you will die.

A simple sentence written on a marvelous, sunny day in the Sinai desert. You must make friends with the shadow or you will die. I continue to be amazed (although not particularly surprised) by the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that messages I gathered while on pilgrimage continue to follow me home.

The contrast of landscape and weather between fall in the Pacific Northwest and anytime in the desert couldn’t be much greater. We are experiencing deluges of blowing rain. My feet are already threatening to grow webs and the shadows come in the form of muted grays everywhere instead of pockets of charcoal tucked inside sun-soaked rock formations. It is a time of transition from one season to another, from Africa to North America, from spaciousness to city, from ancient wisdom under each footstep to modern tugs for my attention at every turn.

I had a particularly difficult week last week and fortunately already had a session scheduled with my spiritual director. I went in with blank check in hand hoping she had more free time available, because I was certain I needed to spend the day unpacking with her. Alas, we kept to our hour session, but the work continued long after I left her home. Stopping at a nearby park, I pulled out my journal and while watching the turning leaves drift across my path, I let the words flow onto the page. Somewhere tucked inside the outpouring were these words: “Face my own shadows – aloneness – failure – incompetence.” I might as well have added “or you will die.”

Leaving Volunteer Park, I went the “wrong way” and while circling back around, I saw a beautiful golden retriever tied to a post where he was surrounded by lunch pails and pint-sized jackets. He was clearly the watcher for his children who were inside the building doing their own exploring. My heart tugged and I automatically pulled the car over and got out to greet him. He was the risen image of my dear old boy, Curry. He let me pet his coat and stroke his belly as if we’d been old pals forever. I gazed into his chocolate brown eyes and for a moment was lost in time as his unconditional love washed over me. Tears formed as I remembered the grace and care my companion of 13 years had offered to me without reservation. Curious to know who I had just met, I reached under his neck for his dog tags while asking, “What’s your name boy?” Turning over the silver medal, the name appeared in bold letters: SHADOW.

Need I say more? The message was clear to me – my own shadows long for unconditional love and care. They don’t deserve to be dismissed or shoved aside just because they’re uncomfortable. Desert? Rain-soaked earth? The message is still the same. I must make friends with my shadow or I will die.

Today I invite you to consider the places tucked in the shadows of your being that are waiting to be befriended. Today would be a great day to give your shadow a little light – no matter where you live ☺.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'm Joining the Abbey for Advent!

Fall has settled nicely into the Pacific Northwest and with that our thoughts begin to turn toward the holidays. It is with great pleasure and excitement that I announce my newest collaboration with Abbey of the Arts. For those of you near and far, here's an opportunity to enter into the season of Advent alongside me and a host of inspirational artists. I invite you to peruse the following information and consider giving yourself this gift of online retreat.



Early Registration is now open for Abbey online classes!

Birthing the Holy: An Online Creative Journey through Advent and Christmas
November 28, 2010 – January 9, 2011
Program fee of $125 includes weekly reflections and daily emails by Christine Valters Paintner on six themes of the creative journey, plus 10 songs by River's Voice, guided movement prayer videos by Betsey Beckman and her storydance of the Annunciation, and facilitated SoulCollage® experiences with Kayce Stevens Hughlett (aka lucy).

Join us for a six-week online retreat in everyday life for the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Let this winter be a transformative journey of deepened commitment to your creative practice.

Pre-register before November 1st and receive a free copy of Crossing the Threshold: New Year, New Beginnings.

Click HERE for more information and to register. Hope to see you there!!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bedouin Empress

My posts have been long and filled with my journey to Egypt. I’m finding it nearly impossible to drift away from that place for very long – nor do I want to move away from it. As you might imagine, many things were stirred in me and it is in the “unpacking” that I find even more depth.

Recently, my group work has revolved around the archetypal energy of the empress and/or sovereign. There has been much conversation and exploration about what it means to embrace one’s inner sovereign. A question that seems to arise time and again in a “First World Country” (if I even know what that means) is the idea of how easy it is to claim sovereignty, power, health, privilege, etc. when these things surround us in abundance. What would happen if I were poor? Could I still embrace a sense of wealth?

Last week, when talking about the Empress and these questions were posed, one “Empress” became fully present in my mind. It wasn’t Queen Elizabeth or Michelle O’Bama or Melinda Gates, but rather a Bedouin woman I met in Egypt. By most standards this woman would be considered poor and living in poverty. But I had to ask myself the question, does she think she’s poor?


I encountered her as we were leaving the desert and dropping our Bedouin cook off at his home. The jeep I was in arrived later than the rest and we were asked not to disembark due to time constraints. The pull to leap from the car and mingle with the children, goats and others was strong and only our guide’s firm request to stay put kept us all in the car. However, in the brief moments we waited, this woman – indefinable in age 50? 80? 100? - approached our vehicle and reached her hand out to each one of us. Language was unnecessary as she took my palm in hers and offered me the gift of her eyes. This woman is an Empress – one who stands solidly in who she is, invites others into her realm and does not know the meaning of scarcity. She is sovereign over her world and makes sure that those within her kingdom are welcomed.

She has given me much pause to consider what my own inner Sovereign looks like and what she values. Is it jewels and extravagance? Even that is hard to ask, because my definition of those two things is shifting. The jewels I value most right now are a few stones, a fossil and a piece of coral. Extravagance is resting under a billion stars with only a sleeping bag to shelter my body. And my Empress? Well… her sovereignty lies in a castle that looks quite different from the fairy tales.

Ponder alongside me, won’t you… Where does your Sovereign reside? What are the jewels that wrap your Empress or Emperor? How do you define wealth?

photos ©lucy
bedouin girls
empress lucy & her noble, bella
bedouin palace

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A New SIlence...

"When you travel,
A new silence goes with you,
And if you listen, you will hear
What your heart would
Love to say." John O'Donohue

9.24.10

Today was a day spent learning of the reverence and preparation for death and ending with the celebration of new life through marriage. Two weddings graced our presence as we moved from the Pyramids Park Hotel to Novotel. In between were times of laughter, illness, crowded spaces, ancient wisdom and miles of forged friendships.

We started the day at the Pyramids of Giza. Pinching ourselves, we couldn't believe we were standing on the ground of the Pharaohs. The massive structures rising out of the rocky sand. How DID they do that? Three large pyramids flanked by three smaller for the wives and three more for the mothers.

Camels and Tourism Police surrounded the perimeter while peddlers hawked their wares for "very good price." Hany, our guide, had warned us to be on guard here. That "very good price" quickly went up and thievery was not uncommon in this clime. As we walked from the bus toward our first destination, an earnest and kind Egyptian handed me a small blue scarab then asked how many children I had and handed me another for my 2nd child. As I continued my walk, he handed me more gifts for my son and daughter as I graciously thanked him while keeping my stride. Finally he was through handing me presents and I kept walking. Then the quiet request came, "Just a small amount of money, please?" "No, thank you," I replied and handed back the treasures. Our dance of commerce had ended with no monetary exchange and only the memory to remain in my heart.

After viewing the Great Pyramid, we went to the vista point and saw the six pyramids all in a row with the mother's tucked safely behind their sons. Hany filled us with details and facts and then Regina invited us to pause with the silence. Pilgrims spread out, some sat, some stood, all gazed. Sitting side by side on the retaining wall, Regina and I let the breeze lift our spirits as we felt the feathers of Ireland and eternity swirl around us.

The magic continued as it was time to visit the inner chamber of the Second Pyramid. Well-prepped by our guides, we knew it would be a cramped and potentially strenuous path. Nine brave souls entered the opening toward the tomb. Crouched in a slumped walk to fit under the 4-foot ceiling , my head gently bounced off the ancient stone until I found a more pleasing rhythm to make my way up the ramp. Following my roommate, Deb, we kept a nice pace while still pausing to touch the solid walls where so many hundreds of thousands had gone before. A few yards crouched and a few standing up until we entered the sacred chamber.

Barren except for an empty sarcophagus and a few modern lights, it felt like we had entered the center of the earth. No claustrophobia for me, only a beckoning from the far wall to place my hand-print in the space where others hands had lain. Next followed my other hand and then my forehead until I was locked in a slow dance with this ancient mystery. The quiet was profound and immense and it held for several moments - long enough, in fact, that I finally opened my eyes to see if everyone else had evaporated. Yet there stood my fellow compatriots - Deb, Mary, Don & Marie-Josee. We had been granted a miracle moment. With thousands of tourists outside, this handful of pilgrims were offered the gift of silence and connection inside this ancient wonder of the world.

I slowly moved around the perimeter, stopping by the open burial crypt and proceeding clockwise until I stood before the very place of my slow waltz. There above the invisible impression where my forehead touched the cool stones was the word I heard the day before inside the Alabaster Mosque - BE. Just a few unremarkable letters were inside this sparse space, and I chose to stand below - unbeknownst to me - the very letters that chose me the day before. Blessed Be. God is in this place. I tapped Arleen (who had drifted in) upon the arm and showed her my confirmation. Goosebumps ran down both our spines. The magic of this place continued...

Finally, the still small voice inside me said, "Enough" and I knew it was time to go. Just as I exited the chamber and started down the narrow ramp, hoards of Japanese tourists pushed past me and I knew the silence of the chamber was no more. Blessed be. O'Donohue's words were perfect for this day, "A new silence goes with you..." And the serendipity continued as I read the bookmark given by Regina that day:

"These sites that call forth reverence and awe and humility and wonder, we make them sacred, and the ancient ties are never lost, the oldest voices calling from within the stones." James Houston

What are the sites that call forth reverence, awe, humility and wonder for you today? It certainly doesn't have to be inside a great pyramid. Remember, a new silence goes with you each day...

photos ©lucy - sites of Giza

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A City of Surprises - Cairo

September 23, 2010 Pre-Pilgrimage Old Coptic Cairo and Islamic Cairo

"Lord, awaken me from the sleep of desire
That makes me oblivious to my
heart's longing.
Lift the illusion that hides the truth
That giving up self is really gaining." Sapira Journal

Waking up in Cairo. Where did the past two days go? Lost amidst planes and flying hours - learning to practice my presence with seat mates, kicking toddlers & foreign ambassadors. Meeting and greeting my fellow travelers, then venturing into this vast city of Cairo and praying jet lag will not cloud the magnificence of this experience. Using my breath to lead the way. I crave filling my lungs with fresh air. Two inhales. Two exhales. YHWH. Visiting the Coptic churches, Amma Regina reminds us God is as near as our breath.

Now I sit outside the Coptic Museum - enclosed spaces and jet lag taking their toll. I can walk or stand no longer. I am pulled toward sunshine and fresh air. Sitting on the sandstone ledge, I know my shirt will be covered with Cairo dust. Letting go has already begun and I sink back against the solid wall. This morning we've traveled through the Coptic churches in the enclosed area of Old Cairo. We've learned Coptic actually means Egyptian although many like to classify Coptic as Christian Egyptians (a population of 5% in this 95% Muslim city).

Our personal Egyptologist, Hany (pronounced Honey), leads the way with worlds of knowledge enthusiastically spilling from his mind and mouth. His heavy accent brings lovely new adaptations to old words like Deuteronomy and Pentateuch. We travel through the narrow alleys learning to say, "La la-la" (No No) to the hawkers of their "special ware." The day doesn't seem so hot, although a trickle of sweat slides its way down my back. Listening to the voices surrounding me, I can make no sense of this Arabic language that sounds guttural, but seems to come mostly from the throat. I'm saddened that the first word I've learned is "no" although perhaps I could slide "Salaam" in there and find rest with "go in peace."

I've been reminded today that I don't prefer history lectures and group tours, but rather enjoy the small and tiny sections of life - a backlit tree of life in a 4th century church - the trill of a bird I cannot see or name. I am grateful for Regina who invites us to slow down and reminds us to touch the portals and gates as we enter new territory. A dragon fly drifts by and I'm curious about the message she has to offer. I could lay down and sleep right here in this ancient courtyard pressed against hard stone. The breeze calls to me to drift and move back outward - onward.

Evening

Today was a day of attuning to the voices around - calls to Midday prayer, haunting and beautiful in the same moment - pleading vendors - laughing children - weary pilgrims - new-found friends.

When journeying in an unknown land, can a smile be enough? In the midst of the maze-like bazaar, a tattered vendor gives thanks for a beautiful smile. A pilgrim grieves over the poverty surrounding us. Do our "hosts" believe they are impoverished? Cairo exudes the mystery of a city both ancient and half-finished all at the same time. We are reminded of Marco Polo and his stories to the Great Kublai Khan as he says:

"Your footsteps follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within... many are the cities like "Cairo", which elude the gaze of all, except the (wo)man who catches them by surprise." Sapira Journal

Did we catch the city by surprise today or did it catch us?
Following our trip to Old Cairo, we entered The Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha or Alabaster Mosque. We were met by the call of tinkling bells as the wind whispered through the magnificent chandelier. Shoes in hand, we entered this sacred place and waited to hear our own 100th name in our hearts. Words drifted through my mind - were the whispers my own or Another's? Tinkle Bell - Breath - Breathe - Breeze - Beauty - Be - Be still and know that I am God - BE.

The pull to stay here was strong. Spread across the tapestry rug, we, pilgrims, commingled with God, Allah, the 99 beautiful names as well as fellow travelers from around the world. A little girl caught our eye with her curly locks and sassy walk as she moved toward and away from her own family including her mother in full burka. Many of us pondered the question of when this little beauty would come to an age and be draped in black from head to toe. Would she look forward to this right of passage? Would she rebel? Those questions, however, were wrapped in the future and at that moment it was time for us to don our shoes and move from here.

Our next stop was the Cairo bazaar. Our first adventure included finding local bathroom facilities as we dug in our wallets for Egyptian pounds and searched our pockets for tissues and hand sanitizer. The brilliance of color and winding pathways felt like something straight out of a Middle Eastern movie. I could envision a chase scene where the heroine (or hero) knocked aside stacked baskets, swung from brightly colored scarves and swooped in and out of narrow passageways to escape the ensuing villain. Scarves, trinkets, and hidden treasures were tucked in every nook and cranny. Vendors promised they had the "best price" on all their wares and if you showed the slightest interest, the game of negotiation began. Intimidating to some, it reminded me of bargaining in Cozumel or Cancun - although here with a level of hospitality I was just beginning to see as wonderfully Egyptian. Alas, our time in this place felt too short to me. I would have loved to wander slowly (slowly) through the pathways and practice my negotiating skills for jewelry and scarves (a practice near-well perfected by our dear, Regina.)

Loading up the bus and heading back toward the Pyramids Park Hotel, we made a slight detour at an authentic Egyptian Cotton store. A few of us opted to stay on the bus while others emerged in a short while with treasures for loved ones - including themselves! Today, I caught a better glimpse of the Nile and then the pyramids rising through the haze like my own Mt. Rainier peaking out of the clouds - majestic, haunting, & ancient beyond belief.

The contrasts of this city are full of surprise. A woman passenger in royal purple burka rides sidesaddle on the back of a scooter. A donkey pulls the family cart amidst taxis, buses and automobiles via intersections with no traffic signs. Horses graze between buildings and a camel trots down the street with master atop the gaily decorated hump. Indeed a mixture of sights, sounds and surprise.

Back home, we parted ways to dine and rest. My evening included a light dinner, followed by a full Egyptian moon, gentle breeze, strawberry shisha, laughter, fun, fellowship and a photo by Andre Bottecelli's photographer. What a day!!!

"I will commune with my own heart upon my bed,
and be still... I will both lay me down in peace,
and sleep: for thou, DEEP SILENCE, only makest
me dwell in care." - Susan Muto

photos ©lucy
  • steeples in coptic cairo
  • "tree of life" - 4th century
  • old cairo alleyway
  • view from alabaster mosque and me :)
  • glimpses at the bazaar

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looming Giants - Cairo continued...

September 22, 2010

Cairo was right outside my car window although I could have been in any city in the world for all I could see. Behind the cover of darkness, Ancient Memphis spoke to me. It felt like we were traveling on a major highway as lights and billboards whizzed by the window. My fellow passenger mentioned something about the "ring road". Simultaneously images of "the Loop" surrounding Houston, Texas entered my mind. Later, I would learn my instincts were not far off as Ring Road circles the outer edges of Cairo thus bypassing the slower, more crowded inner city streets.

We approached an area where the lights spread out and calm descended on my soul. I noticed tables set up along a sidewalk and people milling about enjoying the warm evening air. What was odd was the tables weren't set up along storefronts and their backdrop was solid with only a spattering of light. It was a curious scene for me to witness, all in the matter of a few seconds. Before I could ask where we were, the surrounding streetlights thickened again and my companion said matter-of-factly, "You've just crossed the Nile."

What? You're kidding me? I've just crossed one of the greatest rivers in the world and no one told me until we were past it? My disappointment swelled, and my senses tingled because I knew something great had just touched me. The immensity surrounding me was tangible, even though I couldn't see anything other than dots of light pockmarking the indigo night. Later, I would learn that in the daylight one can also see the pyramids of Giza from the route we were on. Those giants had hovered over me in darkness, not dissimilar to Mount Rainier guarding the city of Seattle and her surrounding towns.

Thus the mystery deepened. The water of the Nile called to me like the sidewalks of Paris. I longed to sit and gaze at what I knew not - to join the locals at their wrought iron tables and feel the warmth of the night air wash over my tired bones. I imagine to gaze at the Nile is to feel the streams of eternity. The pull of the water was like the movement of tides. Even under cover of darkness, I knew something was there. The tug was tangible - not unlike my call to come to this faraway place. Was I witnessing my year of water co-mingling with this desert environ?

I read once that the things we are drawn to are pieces of brokenness unbreaking back together. Unbreaking back together. Was this a moment of 'unbreaking' for me? By crossing the Nile was I gathering puzzle pieces of my existence? This trip found me on the edge of moving and flowing with water's adaptability which is not unlike sand's. Just when I think I have things all figured out or there are no more spaces to fill, another drop or grain shows up. Sometimes I am filled to the top and overflow. Those are the moments of wholeness when I am connected to the universe with every atom of my body. Instants profound, yet fleeting, because I shift ever so slightly and let my humanity slip in through anger or disappointment and the water spills or dries up or the sand shifts and blows away. Is the moment gone? Or can I experience it as offering more room and space to gather and heal my brokenness? Early in this journey, the moments were already aligning like the giant stones at the base of Giza.

As you walk through your days, I invite you to notice how the moments align. Perhaps they are only recognizable in hindsight, like my realization of the Nile. How will you be present to what surrounds you even when you cannot see?

photos ©lucy
  • Crossing the Nile (daytime)
  • The Pyramids of Giza
  • Base of the Great Pyramid

What do you need?

Today is Express Your Needs Day. I found this movement at Evenstar Art and decided I'd play along. The goal is to make a sign and hold it up for what you need. Today (and most days) I'm finding this:


Wordle: i need to write

Fortunately, they said your sign doesn't need to be pretty. Won't you play along? If you don't want to make a sign or have time to make one, (because maybe you need to sleep or work or play or something else besides make signs) then feel free to leave your "need" here. I'd love to know!!!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mt. Sinai

Two weeks ago today, I climbed the Mountain - Mt. Sinai. In many ways it was a focal part of this journey - not always for me, but often in the telling for others. It is a place people can imagine in their minds and possibly connect or relate. It's the place where folklore says Moses received the Ten Commandments. It's a destination even those who don't know much about the Bible recognize. The climb is physical, so athletes and adventurers see the appeal to it. It's the place I often mentioned when talking of going to the desert, "I'm going to climb Mt. Sinai."... and so I did. Yet each time I think of it, I remember foremost the drudgery and the day doesn't float to the top of my memory list from the trip.

Today, however, it is the place I am called to write about. I made a collage for that day the night before we climbed and this morning when I looked at that small piece, I heard in my soul, "It was hard AND there was Freedom." Each stone below my foot a reminder to pay attention. Heel, toe, heel, toe. Focusing on balance and presence to keep myself safe on the rocky terrain. Heel, toe, heel, toe. Each stone a reminder of those who go before me today, tomorrow, yesterday. Heel, toe, heel, toe. One foot in front of the other all the way up and all the way down for eight-plus hours. (An interesting side line - when I first wrote "heel, toe, etc.", it came out "heal, toe". I haven't quite decided which spelling is correct...)

Why do I recall the drudgery of this mountain? The Freedom looked different than I expected. So, what did I expect? A mountain top experience, of course! Silly me. Each day is a mountain top yet somehow I've managed to forget that regarding Mt. Sinai. Still, the words "Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground" come to my mind. Here is my journal entry from that evening:

"In you we are bound to one another, linked by threads seen and unseen, destined for love in eternity, when all that has been decayed is restored." J. Cotter

Today we pilgrims climbed the mountain - ten in reality and four in spirit with countless others around the world through space and time holding us in prayer. Our dear Sister J led the way as she mounted her camel before dawn (4:30 a.m.) to meet us @ Camelot for sunrise. Like a regal princess warrior in the moonlight, I dubbed her Queen of Sheba.

I didn't particularly like this day until I started connecting the threads through the eyes of my fellow pilgrims. The day started with laughter as my roommate's barking dog alarm sounded, followed quickly by my revving motorcycle @ 3:30 a.m. They were sharp sounds in this monastic environment and the silliness of it combined with the early hour and probably our own excitement sent us into giggling fits.

Our group met in the courtyard just before 4:00 a.m. The sun was still asleep, but the brilliant autumn moon glowed in the darkness. We were saddened to learn we would be two pilgrims short for the trek, however, comforted by the place they would hold for us at the foot of the mountain. Later as the pieces wove together, I knew their prayers were pivotal in our experience and they were with us every step of the way. Quietly, Dr. Rabia walked us to the edge of the monastery (which sits cradled at the base of the mountain) and then our guide, Hussein, took over.

With a waning moon of just over 1/2 full, our path was lit with no need for our flashlights and so the threads began. Our pace was slow - almost painfully so at first. I had to check in with myself and heed my inner voice that said, "Hurry up. Get going." Others must have been feeling the same thing, because one of our spiritual guides reminded us of how often excitement can get in our way and going at a steady pace would serve us well.

The serpentine of pilgrims slowly wound our way up and around the rocky paths and for what seemed like hours, we didn't even know which peak we were attempting to ascend. These mountains are layered upon each other, tucked together, making it impossible from the base to tell one from the other. They are unlike my home mountain of Rainier that stands like sentry for miles over the surrounding land.

There was a party of Greek pilgrims staying at St. Catherine's, too, who made the climb at midnight. They began to dribble by and pass us on their way down along with Bedouins and their camels offering rides to weary travelers. At times I considered taking a ride to break the dull monotony of walking so slowly on the dusty trail. We passed one ramshackle snack shack and then another until we met Sr. J in Camelot* @ Abraham's Tent for coffee, tea and the breakfast we carried in our backpacks. We had been climbing for just over two hours. (*Lest you miss the humor, Camelot is the highest place on the mountain that camels can ascend... thus this is their parking lot. It would be many more narrow steps before we reached the actual summit.)

As we sat on the worn Bedouin blankets, snacking on bread rolls, cheese, honey, apricot jam and hard-boiled eggs, the sun made its appearance over the horizon. Layers of color tinted the air as dawn turned into day and outlines of mountain peaks materialized before our eyes. The sounds of Bedouin chatter, belching camels and other pilgrims danced in the air, punctuated by the occasional whistle of a bird. More than once someone said aloud, "Can you believe it? We're here on Mt. Sinai watching the sunrise!"

On the not-so-romantic side, after breakfast we found ourselves making necessary treks to the WC (water closet sans water), where we thanked God for our strong thigh muscles and mothers who had taught us at an early age to squat and hold our nose all at the same time. After our "ablutions," we gathered inside the tent for our morning liturgy. This was one of my absolute favorite moments of the day. As we began to set the space, our host, Abraham, graciously offered a beautiful cloth and spread it on our altar of well-worn wood. It was a piece both stunning in its magical appearance and the contrast of the rich tapestry inside a makeshift teahouse. Our host's humble gesture taught us all much about hospitality and how beauty permeates the most unexpected places.

The threads of our journey continued as our sacristans lit one candle and generously offered it around the circle. From the small flame, we each inhaled and breathed its precious gifts. My mind drifted back to St. Bridget's well in Ireland and my holy time with another pilgrim where I then, as now, was overcome with emotion and blessings offered without words. Following the ritual of the fire, poetry, scripture and our song leader's voice filled the air. My heart burst with joy at the immensity of this simple gathering and the awareness we were meeting together in a Bedouin tent - pilgrims in the desert - much as it could have been in the time of Moses. We were united where thousands - perhaps millions - of others had gathered for centuries. "Take off your shoes for surely this is holy ground." Giggles escaped my throat as the camel's guttural noises punctuated the Holy silence. Amen. Blessed be.

Why is it not this moment that comes first to my mind when I think of Sinai? Perhaps it will be now. Perhaps I just needed to dust the sand off my memories and remember that this morning on Mt. Sinai I walked on holy ground.

This holy day, I invite you to consider what memories of your own may beckon to have the dust removed. Take off your shoes for surely this ground is holy. Amen. Blessed be.

photos ©lucy
  • pre-climb collage/journal page
  • Sr. J & her steady mount
  • view from Camelot
  • sunrise on Mt. Sinai
  • pilgrim C & Hussein

Friday, October 08, 2010

Cairo

Welcome to the beginning of my Egyptian journey! I'd love to hear your thoughts and wonder if you have questions and or topics you'd like to hear more about surrounding this adventure. Please feel free to comment and let me know what's on your mind. Mine is still settling into US time while absorbing the adventures of the last weeks.

September 22, 2010

Arriving in a city after dark has always held particular intrigue - especially when approaching a city I've never before visited. Bleary-eyed from 20 hours of travel and a few time zone changes, I begin to catch my first glimpse of Cairo, the largest city on the African continent. With inhabitants of more than 6 million people and another 10 million in the surrounding areas, it is a vast sea of twinkling light as we approach in evening's dusk.

From my window seat I quickly snap a photo of the setting sun and the reality of where I am landing begins to invade my body. My senses perk up as I hear the Air France flight attendant announce in three languages (English, French and Arabic) our approach into the City of a Thousand Minarets. Not being a geography or history buff or business traveler, many might wonder what I (a lone woman) am doing flying into a Middle Eastern country on this September evening. On this final leg of my journey from Paris to Cairo, I have been gifted the luxury of no seat companion - an amazing thing in itself on a predominantly full flight. The brilliance of solitude fades briefly as I realize I have only myself to rely upon as I enter this new world, however, neither fear nor panic strike me at this moment.

Deplaning, we passengers exit our steel cocoon and are shuttled onto an airport bus that will carry us to the main international terminal. Brilliant yellow lights displaying "Cairo International Airport" move past the bus window. It is a scene I've lived in other cities (sans the Cairo sign) and feels somewhat ordinary for the time being. As we leave the bus and enter the terminal, the reality that I'm in a foreign land blasts into my awareness. Having braved sending my passport to the Egyptian Embassy in the US, my travel visa is already stamped in my passport, so I can forgo the confusion of trying to purchase one now. I fall into line behind a man I take to be British and hope I'm in the right queue. All the while, my eyes are scanning the handbills held by local drivers seeking their passengers as I navigate my way through zealous cab drivers offering me passage. "No, thank you, " I murmur while shaking my head and praying my driver will appear soon.

After moving through the passport check without incident, I edge toward the luggage carousel and await my bags. I am jostled by large men hoisting huge suitcases with little awareness of a petite woman standing in their midst. It is not unfamiliar to home. Again, I scan to see the sign for Abanoub Travel without success. Finally, my two small bags are in my possession and I realize it's time to resort to plan b for transportation. I begin to rummage through my carry-on bag for phone numbers and wish I'd paid more attention to things like international codes and calling protocol on my iPhone. The crowd has thickened as we travelers approach the final turnstile that will release us into the world outside the airport. Suddenly, like a sign from heaven my misspelled name comes into focus. It is held in the hands of a young, roundish man with thinning wavy hair, glasses that match his shape and a welcoming smile. He recognizes the look of relief on my face that I'm sure he's seen a thousand times when picking up others. We introduce ourselves and his name is quickly lost in the buzz of the electric evening air. Still, my body relaxes as my temporary guardian carries my bags and we begin to weave through the maze of human bodies toward our car.

Moments like this are so surreal to me. I've seen them in movies a million times, planned this trip for months, yet hadn't considered this actual moment of my own arrival. It is one played out in cities all over the world, nearly every minute of the day. A traveler arrives in a new city. My history is being written right now as I step into a land I've only read about in history books. I am not just arriving in Cairo, but Cairo is arriving in me. Like two lovers meeting under the cloak of darkness, our eyes have met. Will this city hold my gaze? What will be revealed in the days to come? Will she receive me or cast me off as just another casual lover? I wish I could see her in the light. I can feel the secrets she holds, but the light is unnatural and the wattage too low for visual clarity. Still, I feel her pulsing vibrancy. I hear the language shift quickly from English to Arabic and know the mystery is deepening and being revealed even in this seemingly ordinary moment.

photos © lucy
  • landing in Cairo
  • sign while traveling toward the Sinai desert
  • Cairo airport