Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mile Marker 38

Just about a year ago, we were in Hawaii on a Schuh family vacation - soaking up sun, swimming in warm ocean water, transporting buckets of sand home in the folds of Haven's thighs. I love Hawaii (I call it Land of Never Get Cold) and the easy going pace of our days there (afternoon's agenda: to nap or go to the pool?). We enjoyed a luau with the family, a date night for Aaron and I, some snorkeling, a game night, slow evening meals, laying out by the pool. Haven was a new walker and it was such fun watching her toddle everywhere she could, propelled by the flailing of her arms, with a backdrop of perfect green lawns and soaring palm trees.

Our last day in Hawaii, I took an afternoon to myself - Aaron was already home and back at work and I was needing a little space and a break from Haven, cute though she was in her little Hawaiian print sundress. I headed to the north shore of the island where I'd find fewer tourists and the big cliffs and big ocean that seem to feed my soul. As I set out from the condo, I was very deliberate about leaving my agenda as open as possible. My one mandate to myself was to do only that which I wanted to do. I kept asking myself, what do you WANT to do? drowning out as best I could the chorus of shoulds. I should stop at a beach, I should spend the afternoon writing in my journal, no, I should read read read, no I should visit the amazing blowholes along the north shore. I left the clamoring behind as best I could, cruising along, looking for some piece of ocean to inspire me.

Just as I got to the start of the north shore, I noticed a number of cars pulled off into a turnout overlooking a small bay. I pulled over, curious about the attraction, and soon struck up a conversation with a tanned, weathered surfer dude who had been surfing that very bay for the past 40 years. In fact, he'd specifically moved to Maui to surf this very spot, Honolua Bay, and had spent a lifetime doing so. We had a great conversation about surfing, big waves, big wipeouts, close calls, the beauty and love of surfing. I don't surf myself, but I have a fascination with it all the same and totally loved listening to this lifetime surfer as he analyzed the waves and the surfers in the water below us. But I didn't want to watch surfing all day, at least not with that many people, and so I eventually continued on down the road.

At this point, the highway became a small, winding two-lane country road, cutting away from the cliffs and in towards the green sloping fields, winding its way carefully in and around the little bays and coves along the sea. I loved it. I kept my eye open for a beach that might be good for some sitting and wave watching, but before anything caught my eye I had made it to mile marker 38 and a dirt parking lot with a path that led down to a fascinating blowhole in the cliffs on the edge of the roiling sea. I pulled into the lot, next to pile of broken window glass, with the intention of turning around, heading back to find a quiet beach. But as I pulled in, I realized I'd been in the car for awhile. Perhaps a walk would be good - stretch my legs, take in some fresh air, admire the drama of the crashing waves for awhile.

I packed up my little back pack and set out down the path, which was really a number of red dirt paths cutting across the green slope that eventually worked its way down to the sea. The blowhole was actually a ways away, down and around to the edge of the cliffs, to the exposed and battered rocks but the open slopes and big sky and the sound of crashing waves made the walk fulfilling, wherever it led.

Along the paths, there were these little piles of rocks, small rock cairns that I assumed had been left by visitors over the years. The dotted the landscape like little statues, not seeming to point to or indicate anything in particular, more like little testaments to the earth or the sky, a witness to the path, to the passersby.

As I came down a small slope, I noticed, however, an area up on my right that seemed to be strewn with rocks, flat, close together. As I walked closer, the strewn started to look a little more like a pattern, and that pattern started to look somewhat circular. What the? Could this be? No, who would think of such a thing? But sure enough, as I got closer and closer to the area, it became clear that this was a labyrinth, cut in the grass on a slope overlooking the ocean.

My heart pounded with excitement! I had stumbled upon a labyrinth here on the north shore of Maui on my day off. The labyrinth had become such a special symbol to me, a place of meeting god, of being held and understood just as I was, a place of safety. Indeed, a haven. And here was one at mile marker 38 on the winding road of my vacation.

I set my backpack at the entrance of the labyrinth and began my walk. I could hardly contain myself - I was so excited I could barely find the quiet or calm I thought I needed to walk a labyrinth. I couldn't wait to tell Sarah! And Colleen! And Joy! I walked anyway - who needs a quiet mind when such trying to soak in such an amazing gift?

I quickly reached the center of the labyrinth, where there was a rather large rock cairn, an altar, I guess. The center of the labyrinth can represent union with god, which I generally find to be a lot of pressure when I walk the labyrinth. What if god doesn't meet me here? What if there is no dramatic moment or change or revelation that I can carry out of the labyrinth? I'm sure this anxiety is a hold over from all sorts of youth group retreats and rallies that called for some sort of intense spiritual experience at the peak of the event, but despite this lurking anxiety, something always meets me on the labyrinth, somehow. I'm not sure I can describe the ways I've been met - in fact, the saying seems to cheapen the experience a bit - but the labyrinth has offered me many gifts. And this time was no different.

Balanced on one of the rocks of the center altar, was a hollowed out coconut shell filled with little tidbits - a lighter, a note, a business card, I can't even remember what else. I could only assume that these were offerings of some sort and felt that I, too, needed to leave some sort of offering. But what? I began to reflect on my deep deep need for control - to have things ordered, organized, to know what's coming and how to perform. To be assured that I will succeed. This had come out during the vacation, where I was essentially alone with Haven and my in-laws - keeping a cap on things was my way of assuring that I looked good, that I had it together, in the presence of family. It protected my vulnerabilities, kept my guard intact. And so I decided that as my offering to the rock cairn at the center of the labyrinth, I would surrender my ponytail holder. I only had one with me and it was awfully windy there on the north shore but the ponytail represented control, keeping my hair intact, keeping it together, out of the way, under control. To do without, to let my hair free, would be messier, harder to control - in fact, impossible to control. I took my ponytail down and set the tie in the coconut shell (of course, I second guessed this, thought I could just THINK about doing it and that would probably be enough).

I walked out of the labyrinth, actually a little calmer than I had started, my hair whipping around my face. When I got to the entrance again, I wasn't quite ready to leave the labyrinth yet. So I stood at the entrance and practiced some of the tai chi/body prayer moves that I've learned at the contemplative retreat over the years. My back was to the sun and my shadow stretched out perfectly in front of me as I looked out over the brilliant blue ocean. I moved slowly, gently, watching the dance of my body in the shadow before me. It was glorious.

And then, I kid you not, as I was doing this, a full rainbow appeared over the ocean directly in front of me. A HUGE rainbow stretching out in front of me as I prayed slowly in the sunshine of the labyrinth. It felt so over the top, so extravagant! The moment felt like more than a moment of serendipity - this felt like a gift. Indeed, it felt like Jesus had called up the day before and said, Hey, do you want to go for a walk? Meet me at mile marker 38 and we'll walk. It'll be nice.

That was my day. The North Shore. A labyrinth. A rainbow. I had listened to myself, careful to do only what I wanted, and was met so profusely in that moment. I had made an offering, a piece of surrender, and was given a promise wide and beautiful.

That was mile marker 38.