Inside Mystery Cave

A lifelong friend and I are at the mouth of the cave, about to embark on a guided tour with a naturalist. Along with people we never met before, we’re entering Mystery Cave near Preston, Minnesota.

Before this moment several years ago, we had studied the history and geological displays in the nearby welcome center. I was in awe when I discovered the cave expanded for miles, stretching underneath farm fields through the limestone landscape. Without the signs, maps and indicators elsewhere, I never would have known about the expansiveness hidden away beneath the surface of Earth.

It is the same with humans: Much of what is hidden below the surface is often unknown, unmarked.

I am not surprised to feel the chill of dampness upon my skin once we cross the threshold, as we make our way forward into the dark. What I am surprised by, however, is how the space feels like a cathedral. A sanctuary. The giant stalagmites and stalactites seem like the pillars ascending and descending I’d find in church.

I want to fall to my knees, to reverence what feels holy, real. I am amused that…   [This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

Old Mystery Cave sign. Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/55239532902204369/?lp=true

Franciscan Bookshelf: A Simplified Life: A Contemporary Hermit’s Experience of Solitude and Silence

By day, guest blogger K.P.—a good friend of Sister Julia’s—reads, writes, and has conversations about literature for a living. By night, she devours theology, sits silently with God, and pursues her calling as a lay order Franciscan through affiliation with FSPA. Each month she will share a favorite selection from her “Franciscan Bookshelf.”

For 25 years, Verena Schiller spent a life cultivated from quiet at the edge of the world. She lived alone in a weather-beaten shed on the precipitous edge of Llŷn Peninsula in Wales, battling both the elements and overpowering roar of her own silence. A member of the Anglican Community of the Holy Name and a consecrated sister, she shares her story in A Simplified Life, a book that rewards its reader for the slow turning of every page with a deeply felt sense of the holy struggle of solitude.

Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/Simplified-Life-Contemporary-Experience-Solitude/dp/1848250258
Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/Simplified-Life-Contemporary-Experience-Solitude/dp/1848250258

In prose that is as difficult and as raw as her salt-grimed cove, Schiller nudges her reader towards gentle insights about the interconnectedness of our inner and outer landscapes. The book winds together three complementary narratives: the rich spiritual history of the peninsula itself, overlooking Bardsey Island; the natural history of Schiller’s new habitat; her discovery of companion plants, animals, and tides; and the personal history of her journey from consecrated sister to solitary hermit. For readers interested in the ecological obligations of the Christian, the possibilities of practiced silence, or the structure of a life that is voluntarily secluded and driven by prayer and survival, Schiller’s story will be achingly beautiful, meditative in its rhythms and depths.

Two words that have drawn me, slowly but surely, onto my Franciscan path are the following—simplicity and solitude—and Schiller delivers a thought-provoking account of both. Silence … what a bonus that would be! But sadly, I think even at the edge of the world, I’d be pouring forth in conversation with the wildflowers, the gulls and the seaweed—as Schiller occasionally finds herself doing, actually.

This is not a journey white-washed for those (like me) who occasionally luxuriate in the idea of becoming a hermit: Schiller’s story makes clear that this is a life of struggle, but also of incredible purpose and beauty. I left these pages feeling extremely grateful for the sacrifice of these sisters and brothers whose quiet prayers animate the abandoned corners of our world.

Praying to Slow so Silence may Swallow

In the time of now-and-not-yet tangled together, I pray that my final days of Advent anticipation shall slow down and seem more sacred.

Poetry pours from my soul as I offer God this hope.

Silence swallows by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Silence swallows

me. Holy is this

invasion. Enter

mystery. Evasion

impossible. Listening

lines lift up signs:

Wait. Surrender. 

Forward frosty Light.

Now and not yet makes

me: more free. Hushed. Be.

Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

The Transfiguration

“Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here!  Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (Mark 9:5).

When I went hiking with a group of junior high students, we were going up a pretty steep mountain and we were having a hard time finding a place to camp.  Finally we came upon an old railroad grade.  It was the only flat land we had found.  So we tied up our tarps and settled in to sleep.  In the middle of the night, it started pouring rain.  The rain came right down the side of the mountain, across our flat railroad grade like a river, and straight down the mountain again.  We spent together a long sleepless night, fortunately, with a lot of laughter and good humor.

I get Peter.

Can we just stop for a moment and pitch a tent?

In this crazy 4G-speed world can we rest and stay and be?

I’ve been tired lately,  Bone tired,  Take-a-nap-on-my-lunch-break-cause-I-cannot-keep-my-eyes-open tired.  My friends and parishioners have noticed my tiredness and told me to take it easy.  So right now I am in the middle of a five day retreat.  I am finding restoration.  And I am reflecting on being tired.  

I think a lot of us are tired: from justice work and daily work, school and jobs and family.  The speed is relentless and the expectations are never-ending.  I remember making a list of Holiday stressors and writing down, “existence.”  Sometimes, just this living wears us out.  

Jesus,

Show me the things

That lumber up my heart,

So that it cannot be filled

With your life and power.

–Evelyn Underhill


What lumbers up my heart? 

Lord, show me the logs of attachment and self-criticism, of pettiness and envy, of over-analysis and just pure flight that keep me from filling with your love.  Help me, my Jesus, to rely on you.  To rest in you.  To be wholly in you.  Help me to find a little more interior space to be who I am just as you made me, and to be okay with that.  I cannot do it without you.  I cannot do anything without you.

 


Peter came down from the mountain.  He asked to put up a tent, but he followed Jesus back into the daily healing work of the world.  Eventually, he picked up his own cross. I think maybe it is okay to be tired for a while.  It is okay to rest.  And also I know that the greatest rest will not come to me on my own.  Jesus is my rest.