Little Altars

Sunset on Russian Beach, Straford Ct – April 11, 2010

How do I let go?
How do I forgive?
How do I ever find the way forward again?
How do I ever know I won’t just screw it up worse than I already have?

I finally just dug in my heels and declared, “I am not moving from this spot!” That applies to making any major decisions in my life and to my relationship with God. I walked into Deacon Ron’s office at the beginning of Lent and told him, “This is where I am and I’m not moving. I’ve gone as far as I can go and I need something from God before I can go any further.”

I expected a gentle but firm rebuke of some kind but it didn’t come. Instead Ron simply said, “That’s because you’re still pissed at God.” It’s scary to have someone who sees through me so easily. But he was right and I said so.

Over the next forty days, Ron met with me weekly. He had me reading The Hound of Heaven every night. I had much journaling to do with that poem. I had so many dreams – vivid and almost prophetic dreams. Dreams that pointed my feet in the right direction. Dreams that led Ron to guide me on what to read and pray with next. There were dreams of searching through catacombs full of dead books, searching for the one book that wasn’t dead. There was a dream where I fled through the same catacombs carrying my book while angry people were searching for me, desiring the power that book carried within it. I fled up a mountain where I hid just below the nest of an eagle, who was watching out for me. That eagle was a symbol of John the Evangelist. Ron had me read the Gospel of John at random, wherever the page fell open or whatever caught my heart.

One Wednesday night, when I was too tired to pray with the Gospel of John, I fell into bed saying, “God, John, I’m sorry I’m just too tired tonight. We’ll talk tomorrow.” The next day, I had an email from a fellow ministry team member I had never even talked to before. To my shock it was the random verses from John that I had been reading on Tuesday and had been too tired to read the night before. God had just emailed me!

I was being given a tremendous amount of grace and I knew it. With each passing week, I became more and more aware that God was giving me what I needed to move forward again. It also wasn’t time to move yet.

In the midst of all this, I gave the formal testimony to the judge for my annulment. I joined a group for divorced Catholics and in researching support groups, discovered a retreat for divorced, separated, and widowed Catholics. I seriously wondered whether or not I was ready for that retreat but finally decided to take the risk. No one made me go. No one recommended it to me or was going to go with me. I was on my own and that was okay. So I sent in my deposit and tried to forget about it until it was time to go.

Meanwhile, Lent continued and so did the strange dreams. I had one in which I met two women in white dresses, with gauzy black hats that concealed their faces. Their names were Wisdom and Death. I will go into more details about them in another post but when I described my dream to Ron he asked me if I’d ever read a book called “Hinds’ Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard. I’d never even heard of it but he said my dream reminded him so much of it and he recommended that I read that next. I bought it but something told me to wait until Easter to start reading it.

In the book, just like in my dream, there are two veiled figures to guide the main character on a treacherous journey. Along the way, the main character builds little altars and lays down the things that are hindering her. That stuck with me and I wasn’t really sure why.

Finally, the week after Easter, it was time to make my retreat. I ran into some financial issues that week and the deposit check for the retreat bounced, caused some other debits to overdraft my account, which added up to a bunch of bank fees and the embarrassment of having to tell the retreat coordinator that the check had bounced. Add to that, I could pay cash for the deposit, but I would need to postdate the check for the balance. The easier thing to do would’ve been to not go. But I knew that now was the time. It was time to get moving forward again, at least in my relationship with God. So I went.

I won’t go into all the details of the weekend. Those are too sacred even for here. But I will say I built a little altar out of sea glass on the windowsill in my room that first day. I laid down my need for control, my frustration at being the youngest one there (why am I always the baby?), my impatience, my lack of trust, and my anger that I even needed to be there (my marriage should have worked out!). I made a conscious decision that I would not, not matter happened on that weekend, pick up those things again. There were two instances on that weekend that I stood in my room looking out the window, sobbing and pleading with God, “Please Lord – Don’t ask this of me. This I can’t do!” Then I would look at my little altar again and know I couldn’t pick up those things again. I found I had the strength to do things I never dreamed I’d be able to do. When the weekend was over, I left my little altar there in the room that had been mine. I left behind my need for control, my frustration, my impatience, my lack of trust and my anger.

When I drove home Sunday afternoon, I stopped home only long enough to pick up my boots and then drove to the beach. I hiked out to my favorite spot and along the way I picked up a shell, lots of sea glass, a piece of pink marble, three blood-red rocks, and finally a two-by-four with rusted nails pounded into it. It was nearly sunset when I reached my favorite spot. I laid the board across two rocks to form the base for my next altar. On it I laid the shell – which is me, empty and waiting to be filled with whatever God gives me next in life. Then I laid down the two smaller red rocks – which are the hearts of my two boys in need of God’s healing. Next were the nails already in the board – which are the wounds I still carry. The larger red rock came next – my own broken heart. The piece of pink marble, a symbol for my dreams, went next. Finally, I arranged the sea glass in the shape of a small mosaic cross. These pieces were all the bits of truth that I had found during my retreat. There were many colors there, including pink and lavender, rare colors for sea glass.

When I was finished, the sun was just starting to descend below the clouds and threw brilliant sunbeams upward and outward. The sky was painted with soft pinks, baby blues, calming lavenders and beside me the water was nearly flat with only the tiniest waves lapping at the shore. I made my offering and sat quietly as the sun slowly sank away behind the edge of the world. Finally, filled with peace, it was time for me to go home and back into the real world. I took two pieces of the sea glass with me to remember those two things I had done on the weekend that I know I could never have done without the grace and strength of God.

As for moving forward, God and I are moving forward together again. I’m still not ready to make any major life decisions yet and that’s okay too. When the time is right, I’ll know what to do.

For so long, as you my readers know, I have struggled with trust and surrender. I suppose I always will. It’s just the way we humans are built. But I have learned how to lay down the things that hinder me in my journey. I will not ask for the grace to be able to do that for the rest of my life, but just for the rest of today.

I have added the link for Beginning Experience on my list of links. This is the retreat I attended and if you or someone you love has been divorced, separated, or widowed, I highly recommend this weekend as a source of healing.