Musings from the Well...
Copyright © 2019 Catharine Mitchell. All rights reserved.
There is an image painted on an old post.
Others designed it and chose the colours.
Exposed to air and the elements
its features weather and fade.
I use my own paint and brush to maintain it and
keep it from wearing away (that's what good girls do)
though I'm not even sure I like it.
Sometimes it seems kind, more often vaguely threatening.
Who knows how much my clumsy repair work has deviated from the original?
One day, I decide to wait -
to let the colours flake and peel.
It's hard, this allowing.
Eventually, I see the soft greys, browns, and greens
of the wood beneath.
Paint has turned to dust.
I brush it away, gently, careful of slivers,
This is no old post, rotting in the ground.
It is a living tree, growing and changing,
connected to the rest of the forest through
a web of roots, deep underground,
and now finally freed from well-meant
but outmoded designs.
I thought the image was the whole truth,
but there is living wood beneath the façade.
Outgrown beliefs, habits, and addictions receive an invitation to evolve beyond
When people ask why I don't post more often, my response is usually that I write when I have something to say. I've come to realize that this is not completely true. Yes, I do wonder sometimes about why some use social media to share so many details of their days: the latest cute thing a little one has done (I love these ones); opportunities to be involved in social-justice-oriented activities (I appreciate these); news about loved ones (two thumbs up)… Then there is the deluge of selfies, pics of each meal eaten, and rants about whatever the writer dislikes or disagrees with. It can become exhausting to try to keep up.
Before I start sounding too self-satisfied and pious, let me own that I am beginning to realize that it's possible to go too far in the other direction. To be overly-cautious. To seldom share true thoughts and feelings because of a discomfort with attention or the fear of handling a potentially negative response. (I'm thinking both in and beyond social media here.) To get back to my opening sentence, perhaps, for me, writing infrequent posts is less about having nothing to say, and more, much more, about a deep caution about revealing what's really going on inside, particularly around my own spiritual journey. I have recently received some nudges from people I sincerely respect and admire. Their words have encouraged me to be more open about sharing my lifelong search for meaning, in the possibility that parts of it may resonate for others. I've committed to using the next few posts to do just that. And I'm beginning with a big topic - the evolving image of God.
I wrote "Old Paint" three years ago during the intense spiritual formation segment of the Ontario Jubilee training program in spiritual direction. I specifically chose Jubilee because it is (in both its guidelines and in actual, feet-on-the-ground practice) open to and respectful of all spiritual traditions and belief systems. I didn't know the term "Spiritual Independent" when I began the program, and I came to feel a resonance with the term as a result of my research and reflection during those years. Whatever I was or wasn't, Jubilee welcomed me and accepted that, regardless of my lack of a label with which to identify my personal belief system, I was indeed person of faith with a deep reverence for the Sacred. During my years of training and in the time since then, I have been able to go back into the past, recognize trauma where it existed in my own experience of a patriarchal religion, heal much of the hurt I carried (though that, like most healing, tends to come in layers), and flow into a new way of relating with the Divine. What "Old Paint" speaks of is my sense of awe in realizing that, like the landscape, plant and animal species, and the Cosmos itself, my image of God can evolve. (I have a suspicion that this is far less about God and far more about me!) This process can be beautiful and full of wonder or it can be a painful wrestling between the religion we were taught (including its concept of God) and our own lived experience. Usually it's both wonderful and difficult. Based upon my own life and the conversations I am honoured to have with seekers during spiritual direction sessions, I can say that while this process of evolution can be immensely challenging, it leads us into greater freedom. There is expanding life in the search, much like the old post in the poem which is revealed to be a living tree. Getting to this point in my own journey has been hard, hard work, and I know that the work will go on as long as I continue to breathe. But it's been worth it.