Flowers grow out of lava rocks at Craters of the Moon National Park

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Towards the Tension

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.—John 1:3–5


I think most developmental psychologists would tell you that every decade of your life, whether in your twenties, or thirties, fifties, or nineties, has a lesson to teach you. Erik Erikson, one such psychologist, formulated a theory of life-stage development in which a human must move through life reconciling basic tensions (e.g., trust vs. mistrust, initiative vs. guilt, intimacy vs. isolation). The key word being “reconcile.” There is a sense that our health as human beings lies in the ability to hold tension. We must come to know the extremes and inhabit the space in-between to trust that shadow and light are reflecting a holistic reality.

At twenty-nine, I found myself fragmented and staring into the dark abyss of my own Self. This was less a product of my marriage coming to an end and more a manifestation of an unexamined life. I had spent years wrestling with parts of myself that felt broken or distorted, and rather than turning toward them and asking what they wanted to teach me I busied myself with work and school and life. I could only hold my Self at a distance for so long. Eventually I would have to confront the loneliness and sadness that permeated my days. What would it mean to be Whole? What would it take to be Healed? Could I discover what it meant to be True?

The summer following my first year of seminary, two weeks before my thirtieth birthday, I set off on a forty-day trip around the country in an attempt to carve out space to listen deeply to what my heart and spirit were crying out for. What began as abstract questions, longings that I couldn’t quite articulate, became manifest and embodied in the land that I traversed.

With deep biblical imagery surrounding me, I made my way into the wilderness. Living in my car and sleeping in national parks, national forests, and Walmart parking lots I eventually covered more than 8,000 miles of the United States. I traveled from California to Washington, Washington to Wyoming, Wyoming to Colorado, Colorado to Missouri, Missouri to North Carolina, North Carolina to Alabama, Alabama to New Mexico, and New Mexico back to California. As I looped my way around the country I encountered my own ups and downs as the landscape changed from mountains to valleys, rivers to deserts. In the looping of land my own thoughts and feelings went high and low and at moments found level ground. It was a circuitous journey. Moments and places that were new also felt familiar, both outside and within me. Even now, six months after I began that pilgrimage I find myself rereading my words that echo with recognition though I am now in a different time and place. The words I received on my trip continue to bring me integration—a reconciliation of Self.

While I have tried to find the words to articulate the images and themes that resounded so clearly for me in those forty days I’m still at a loss of how to weave them into a coherent story. Fragmented memories still bring me wholeness though I’m never quite sure how the grace of that works. Instead, I invite you into my lived moments, to read for yourself the words I wrote as I was experiencing them. They are raw and disjointed thoughts and feelings, unfiltered and truly honest in ways that I continue to find difficult to do when I set out to write as reflection. My hope is that in these words, excerpts from the journal I kept, you will be able to piece together a narrative of deep love, hope, and reconciliation. It is the tension of shadow and light. It is the beginning of healing the body and spirit. The work has not come to completion, but human and land find themselves bound together for the sake of Life . . .


May 12, 2017, 7:23 pm, O’Hare Airport, Chicago, IL

It was helpful to realize how deep my pain is. The truth is I feel like a terrible person, and I’ve been ready to get away because I feel like a black hole sucking people into my mess. This is the selfish part of searching for the Self that I want to avoid. I do not want anyone caught in my mess. Impossible? Perhaps, but I do want to avoid hurting anyone.


May 17, 2017, 10:49 am, Santa Barbara, CA

Right before I left, Mama told me to be prudent. She said I have always had this tendency toward impulsivity and I’ve been sitting with that. I know I tend to make many decisions based on feeling, gut, and intuition and I’m not always 100 percent thoughtful about that. I do want to find a balance and I think that is part of what this trip is about. But I’m convinced that too many people are too thoughtful -> fearful -> shamed -> stuck/frozen and that is not a life I want to live. Not enough people share honestly, transparently, vulnerably, and we’re afraid to deal with the consequences of honesty, even though it is more freeing (but also painful, grief-ful, uncomfortable) to live this way.

I’m convinced this sort of truth-telling is actually what Jesus calls us into, with the world and its powers, yes, but also with the deepest parts of ourselves. I know I have a tendency toward avoidance and I don’t think that’s healthy or helpful for me. Confrontation of self: past, present, future is so much harder.


May 18, 2017, 4:15 pm, Steinbeck Plaza, Monterrey, CA

While I was driving I heard this song called “Brightest Lights” by King Charles. One of the lines is, “The brightest lights cast the darkest shadows.” I couldn’t help but feel the truth of that in my own life, but also I’d rather live in that deep tension. I want to live and love big. Maybe I am fire. Maybe I am a black hole. Maybe I am beauty and destruction at the same time. Maybe I can be okay with it. Maybe I want to be the brightest light and learn to be content with the darkest shadow. Many people have told me how brave I am for doing this trip, for being honest about my marriage, for choosing my Self and God. I don’t always feel brave, but I do feel true and maybe that’s enough for now.


May 20, 2017, 6:45 pm, Redwood National and State Park, Klamath, CA

I drove up the 1 today. It was the most beautiful coastal view, so majestic. Large boulders protruded from the ocean. Since it was early, fog and clouds were hanging low and it felt like I was in the sky. Then I’d go around a curve and the sun would break.

I took it really slowly today. What should have been a 4–5 hour drive ended up being 8, and it was absolutely worth it. It made me think of patience, of how much we (I) want to breeze through things, go the easy way, get to the end. I want to be able to approach my life, my relationships with as much patience and openness as I experienced today. Staying in the now, in the journey . . .

God in the fog, in the trees, in the wine I’m drinking, in my friends, I know you. You are with me. I am not alone. How can I be alone when the sun is warm on my back, the waves are crashing in the distance, the redwoods have been sustained for millennia, and I am here?


May 30, 2017, 4:25 pm, Grand Tetons National Park, WY

I decided to drive into the park last night instead of trying to find a place to crash in Jackson. It was dusk so the sun had mostly set, and the sky was lavender, apricot, sherbet colors lighting up behind the snow-capped mountains. I had this moment of awe. So majestic and grand—the hugeness and beauty of creation. But not even a few seconds later the thought, “I am just as majestic and awe-some! And so is everyone else!” We are so quick to notice beauty around us, slower to see ourselves as exuding that same beauty.


June 1, 2017, 9:17 pm, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

When I got to Saratoga Hobo Hot Springs it had just started raining. The bubbles in the pool were coming up scalding and the rain was falling cold on top of them and me. I closed my eyes, letting the rain land on me while the pool warmed me. I was reminded of Jesus’ baptism, and my own, and heard the words: You are Beloved. You are my Beloved. I felt held in that moment in a tangible way I haven’t felt in a long while.


June 2, 2017, 5:36 pm, Roosevelt National Forest, CO

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all people, a banquet of aged wine—the best meats and the finest wines.—Isaiah 25:6

[This verse] has me thinking about the connection between being out here in creation and justice. Later in chapter 40 Isaiah says God will raise the valleys and lower the mountains, uneven ground will become level and the rough place transforms into a plain. Creation is meant to and will reflect the equality and unity of humanity. Being here is the strongest reminder that everything is connected. Creation and humanity are bound to one another and together point to justice and love. What is creation if not a manifestation of the deepest Love possible? On this mountain God will prepare a feast for all people. Nobody is left out of God’s generosity and love. And in the mountains where the air is so thin you’re basically in heaven, it makes sense that this is where God will pour out the fullness of Love.


June 3, 2017, 10:14 am, Rocky Mountain National Park, Ouzel Falls, CO

After an incredibly slow but necessary day, I decided I would head out on an early hike before heading into Denver for the day. It was a tough hike being at such a high elevation, but I’m staring at the falls and it is worth it. They are misting on me and I can’t help but think of the priest or bishop shaking the aspergil at the congregation after a baptism—you don’t actually get wet, just a few droplets.

I was thinking about two things in particular on this hike: (1) I now get why Jesus would constantly return to the mountains or hills to pray. Yes, it was about silence, solitude, listening, but I think it’s also about memory—about remembering his long stint in the wilderness and what he learned there about God, the world, himself. He experienced some real truth moments out there and deep care from God by the angels, and you don’t always get those tangible moments in life. They seem few and far between. Place and memory are powerfully connected. Sometimes we have to go to places that make the memories come back vividly. (2) This trip is less about my vocation as a hopeful future priest in the Episcopal Church and more about my vocation as a person who follows Jesus to the Source of All. What does it mean for me to follow? I believe in the healing, wholeness, restoration, reconciliation, and life of individuals, communities, and institutions. Helping to bring all people and communities into oneness with their Source—to become their True Selves in the way that God always imagined. Even as I write I know why I’ve always been drawn to the Holy Spirit, because the discovering of the True Self cannot be done on one’s own. We are so easily distorted by our own ego, our own shadows. Only Wisdom can get us there and that requires deep honesty, vulnerability, and self-awareness.


June 4, 2017, 9:52 am, St. John’s Cathedral, Denver, CO

Preparing myself for worship on this Feast of Pentecost, and baptisms included today! I am such a sucker when it comes to baptisms. My heart is already full being here, being able to worship, pray, commune, and be reminded alongside others of our baptismal covenant, the words that orient us in the world. Come Holy Spirit, come! Today we sang Hymn 490, “I want to walk as a child of the light,” one of my favorites, while we were being asperged and it felt perfect after the last few days. Come Holy Spirit.


June 7, 2017, 1:48 pm, Nantahala National Forest, NC

Etty Hillesum inspires me to think about my own inner life, my own vocation. She reminds me that it is not about religion, but relationship—with the Divine, the world, our Self. I know my call as a priest is not to get people to assent to creeds or covenants, to say words and believe with their minds. I have always felt my call is to help people get in touch with their spirits, their inner lives, because it is there that the Source of All exists uniquely and vividly.

This is the relationship with Jesus that we talk about in Christianity, but it is a reality for everyone, even if the language is different. For me, the most important thing is to follow the path of Love, Truth, Light, Life, Justice, Restoration, Reconciliation, Self-awareness, Openness because I believe these are manifestations of the Divine, the One I call God made known to me in Jesus. But not everyone needs to be able to say that to be open to the Source. There are no boundaries, no limits to the Sustainer of All.

I recognize there are parts of this trip that appear escapist. I’ve wondered that myself at points. Am I running away from my real life? But isn’t real life what’s in front of you today? This is my real life. In a world that is increasingly chaotic, filled with ignorance and violence, my heart and spirit need to be built up. There won’t be another moment like this in my life. And I don’t take it for granted because not everyone can make their life like this: six uninterrupted weeks of life, creation, silence, reflection, resilience. No, I don’t think this is escapist, this is foundation-building work. I am building who I am and what I’m doing in this world during this time. God-willing I am cultivating gifts I will need for a lifetime of Love, Truth, and Justice work, Divine work. No, I’m not running away, I’m running toward—toward the difficult inner place in hopes that I will meet God there.


June 10, 2017, 6:54 pm, Fairhope, AL

I’m back on my own and trying to make sense of the last thirty-six hours. I have this subtle, gnawing nausea and my heart feels like it’s been knocked off-center. . . . I am having a hard time with [this new friend’s] stories—painful, dark, wounded stories—but also hearing them on the pier with the moon glittering on the bay, watching kingfishers swooping and catching their prey. Life and death, beauty and destruction sitting side by side. And I am just an observer and listener. The only thing I have to offer is compassion. What’s my role here? I want to leave Fairhope in Fairhope, but Chris’s [Wimann] words are ringing in my ears—about some wounds sticking with us for forever. And this was one truly jarring moment on this trip. Jarring because I’m having to confront myself, others, and the world without judgment, but also with a bit of a critical eye.


June 15, 2017, 9:52 am, San Antonio, TX

I have left the South, and hopefully a part of myself that likes to show up when I’m feeling ungrounded. Yesterday [in New Orleans], I got the apartment straightened up and decided to grab some last-minute beignets and of course it started pouring, but I did feel a sense of being washing clean, of another baptism affirming me and the blurry lines of life/light and shadow/growth.

I don’t know where I’m standing now. I had to call [my friend] because I am a mess, and he reminded me that I’m on shaky legs right now. Legs that have never walked this path before. . . . I need to remember that I am also [surrounded by community and love], and right now that community and love is the Trinity that is holding me, loving me entirely as I am, even when I feel disappointed in myself, feeling like my journey and process should look different/better/cleaner. The question is, can I hold my Self the same way I hold others? Can I offer myself to my Self in a way that is encouraging, challenging, honest, loving? Inviting of my story and transformation? Can I channel the love I know God has for the world into my own healing and wholeness? Can I trust that the blurriness, messiness, shadows are part of the light and life that is promised to me and has been promised to me since the very beginning of this journey? Can I return to the hope of that?

June 16, 2017, 1:08 pm, Albuquerque, NM

Yesterday and today have proven to be grounding, hopeful, beautiful, and emotional days. I had not been looking forward to the drive, but Texas skies at sunset never fail to surprise me. The sun, clouds, and rain were creating an impressive and magical sky show. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. I forgot that now that I am heading west all the sunsets will be in front of me, and oh, they are something. I was hopeful for myself watching the light and shadows move overhead. Their blurring made me feel like my own journey is going to create something beautiful the more present I stay to it.


June 17, 2017, 8:56 pm, Santa Fe, NM

“Fire means love, and fire means suffering. Fire holds the things we need for survival and flourishing, and the promise of destruction” (Wearing God, Lauren Winner, 210). Later she relates fire to self-knowledge [quoting Susan W. Rakoczy]—“When self-knowledge is rooted in the depths of divine love one can face one’s limitations and admit to complicity in sin” (217). This fire I’ve been bouncing around in for the last years feels strangely inviting now. It’s been shifting on this trip, the way I understand fire and myself and God. This fire has always been refining. It’s always been a place of revelation. In this place of destruction I am finding myself.


June 19, 2017, 3:57 pm, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

I am overlooking one of the most impressive views in the whole country. There are no words for this place, really. I could say “awe” or “time” or “creation” but none of that really describes the depth of expansiveness, mystery, “beyondness” of this place. I want to be very intentional with these last few days, posturing myself in a way that submits to last-minute realizations and transformations. I am being offered a moment of stillness in the ancientness of creation. I know the earth is old but here you actually remember that it is, and my life is but a tiny blip in eons and eternity.

These canyons were not created in a day and every drop of water mattered in the erosion of this place. Every drop essential to its transformation. A story that we humans continue to play out. This place is hope. This place speaks of the importance of the culmination of individual energies coming together. Its beauty a testament to patience—long, hard patience.

I am really wanting to take these last few days to enjoy my Self in all her messy complexity. To be okay with being “Self-ish.” To learn comfort in leaning into aloneness, loneliness, solitude. To trust God in Me. To listen deeply to my humanity and my divinity, to my shadow and my light. Come Holy Spirit. Thank you for the bright red, fiery rocks that you grew with time.


June 20, 2017, 10:17 pm, Kaibab National Forest, North Kaibab District, AZ

I think every part of this journey has been spectacular in some way. The variety of landscape has captured me. This evening, driving into the northern part of the Kaibab Forest and going past Vermillion National Monument at sunset was breathtaking. Corals, salmons, coppers, all shades of red and orange burned brightly. I kept thinking that this monument was all mine. There have been times on this trip that I wished someone was with me to take something in with me, but today I was perfectly content to have it all as mine, a memory that exists solely with me.

As I was driving I was thinking about parts of myself that I discovered, or at least leaned into on this trip. Parts that I would normally label shadow, but instead, maybe, just for today, I am seeing them as light: my ability to make friends with just about anyone, my charm, my smile, my vulnerability, my capacity and love of throwing myself into new relationships and communities, my body (in physical exercise and in intimate encounters), my independence, my adventurousness, my stubbornness, my desire and need for connection, my love of ideas and thoughts and feelings, my desire for questions that push me deeper into self-reflection, my impulsivity. Today I was so happy to be me, to have done this trip. As I wrap up this trip I feel surer of my Self, stronger, more confident. Every place I’ve been, every person I’ve met, has opened up a part of me that was waiting to be known. And I do feel known, to myself, to God. I’m less afraid of who I am—of my desires, my needs, my passions, my visions, my vocations.


June 21, 2017, 2:20 pm, Zion National Park, UT

On this summer solstice, the longest day of the year, I am pursuing all of the light. I have climbed to the top of Angels Landing and as the wind blows I do hear the voice of heaven. It is fitting to end my journey in such a biblically named place. The native Paiute people say they can hear the voice of the Creator in the wind or in the river and I feel that in my heart.

I decided that for the last two days I am going to push myself to the very edge of my strength—physically, emotionally, spiritually. It is at the edges that we discover Truth. And so my body is worked. Day two of 5.5–6 mile, very steep hikes in the hot heat. And today to the heights of this peak, holding a chain as I climbed up the edge of the mountain. The question I’m hearing is, “Will you take the risk? Will you risk your life, the possibility of death for Beauty, for Light, for the Voice of Heaven? Some might call it impulsivity, a disregard for safety, but my life wasn’t meant to be lived safely. Life was meant, is meant to be lived largely, fully, giving yourself over to everything God has to offer. I may break emotionally, spiritually. I may even die—but death is never the end, and everything we see/hear/taste/touch/smell in the process of this life makes it a rich existence. So yes, I’m going to go to the places that hurt. I am going to give myself over to the fire of love. I am going to burn brightly and follow the One who burns brightest of all. I am going to climb down this mountain, pick up my walking stick, and go toward the hard and beautiful places I am being called to follow.


June 22, 2017, 8:32 pm, Dixie National Forest, UT

It was still shadowy and cool as we started walking in the water [of the Narrows]. My body was already exhausted after the last two days, but I made myself do the most unique hike on this trip. A river hike almost entirely in the water, and we went about 2–2.5 miles in. There is nothing to do but wade and use your walking stick (which saved me more times than I care to admit). I couldn’t help but think about the spiritual “Wade in the water,” and again be reminded of my baptism and how this trip is pointing me deeper toward my vocation to trouble the waters with Love: for the sake of Self, communities, world, and God. Living into your baptism is not meant to be an easy or quick movement.

The journey is hard, and walking in the Narrows could not have been a more fitting end. “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and few find it” (Matthew 7:14). This whole trip has been leading me toward the Narrows—to the question “Are you going to follow?” Today was hard, hard on my body mostly, but also hard on my heart as this part of my summer comes to an end. Today I reveled in the light, shadows, and the water of the Narrows.


June 24, 2017, 1:31 pm, San Diego, CA

It was a long day getting back to San Diego yesterday. I ended up deciding to drive through the Mohave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park, which meant a full day driving through the desert. I’m nervous and scared of losing everything I found on this trip here. I think this is the real challenge, putting everything I’ve felt and learned into place in real life. Integrating an intense life-changing journey into who I am in the world and learning how to share my story, my vocations, my Self, with pride and joy. Though that may be life-long work.