Standing at the opening of the labyrinth on the grounds of Mt. Olivet Retreat Center, I stretch my arms outward.
“Come, Holy Spirit. Show me what to write this week.”
A flash in the sky draws my eyes upward. Just above me, riding a wind current, soars a Cooper’s hawk.
The words come, unbidden:
“I can teach you how to fly.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard these words from the Spirit.
Years ago I dreamed I was at a retreat with Macrina Weiderkehr, one of my favorite spiritual writers. Absurdly, she looked like Judi Dench, the British actress (God does have a sense of humor!).
In the dream, I cornered Macrina/Judi as she walked out the door.
“Can you teach me how to write?”
She shook her head. “No, I can’t teach you how to write. But I can teach you how to fly.”
She led me toward a small airplane.
“Hop in,” she said, motioning me toward the pilot’s seat.
“Oh no,” I said with a frown. “I don’t want to learn how to fly. I just want to learn how to write!”
This dream is such a metaphor for my spiritual life as the mother of a son with autism, as well as my life as a writer.
I first came to Mt. Olivet 15 years ago with The Writing Academy. I had joined the Academy 17 years earlier, just before the birth of my 3rd son, Joel, the son who would be diagnosed with cognitive disabilities, autism, and bipolar disorder.
“Teach me how to write,” I begged my mentors.
“Write what you know,” they advised. Yearly seminars, correspondence courses, and on-line critique groups guided me as I wrote about what I knew: grieving a child’s disability, and the amazing transformation of that grief into acceptance and joy through the power of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve written and published four books and countless blog posts and articles during my time with The Writing Academy, almost all about my spiritual journey with Joel. I can’t imagine having published a thing without their support and encouragement.
And yet, there’s something more. Standing at the opening to this labyrinth today, I hear these words.
“I can teach you how to fly.”
There is a lesson to be learned in walking a labyrinth, with its twists and turns toward the center; as I take twenty steps forward and ten steps back. When I finally reach the quiet stillness at the center I stand still, open my hands, and give all of my concerns over the the Lord. Then I weave my way outwards again, toward my life in “real time,” circling back and forth around that stillpoint which holds it all together – Father/Son/Holy Spirit.
So like a spiritual journey.
It is in the midst of the suffering—struggling along those parts of the path that I would rather not walk—that the Spirit, disguised as Macrina/Judi in my dream, teaches me how to fly. I can’t count the times I’ve said, “No, God, I don’t want to learn to fly. I just want to write.”
But the Spirit has a different plan. These branch-strewn, muddy, seemingly impassable parts of the path with my son’s disability give me a daily choice of rising above or sinking into the muck. Even now, when he is in his 30’s. Most days I choose to write about the healing journey (although there are still days when I choose to seek God and ask “Why?!?!”) I also choose meditation, spiritual direction, lectio divina, time in nature, friendship, a glass of wine on the porch with my husband at the end of the day, and a good novel at bedtime.
I weave my way to the center of this labyrinth today. I stand still and open my hands. The Spirit’s voice echoes in my heart.
“Continue coming to me. Spend more time with me. Let go of the worries, anxieties, comparisons, self-pity, and fears. Let go of all of those things that hold you back. Spread your arms and simply stand in my presence.
“Look! You’re flying!”