Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spiritual Geography


How is it possible that wide open spaces fill me up inside?
from N.N.

The above sentence is called an "American sentence". Similar to the Japanese poem, haiku, it has 17 syllables, but all on one line. My friend submitted this thought at my request for people to share a few posts ago. Her question caused me to recall the idea of a spiritual geography, an idea which I first ran into in Kathleen Norris's book, Dakota. She talks about the fact that some where in the world there is a landscape that nurtures us and brings us to peace in ourselves, a place where we can put our roots down and they will grow deep. For Kathleen, that place was North Dakota. Her family roots were there and she had grown up visiting relatives in that part of the country but never lived there until she inherited the family homestead when her grandmother died. She was living in New York City at the time, but felt a pull to that vast, open, even desolate country. And she found herself opening up, coming alive in a way that she had not experienced before.

I had always thought that my spiritual geography must be the landscape in which I had grown up. I was raised in the far southeastern corner of Kansas, just on the very edge of the Ozarks. We had gentle hills, green fields and winding country roads. But we were also just a few miles from the prairie. Whenever I go home now, especially in the summer, I roll my window down, take a deep breath into my lungs and say, "Yes, this smells like home." And it does smell like home, I have imprinted upon it. But it no longer feels like home. Home is Alaska, no doubt about it.

I am willing to put up with all the difficulties and complications of Alaska because here, I have found the spiritual landscape in which my spirit flourishes. I would never have guessed that a girl from the middle of America would find her truest home in the wildness of Alaska. Now, most of you know that I live in Anchorage, Alaska's version of the big city, not in the bush or even way out in the country. (Though as I type this, my house is surrounded by birch and spruce, I live on a dirt road, and no other houses are visible from any of my windows.) But, here in Alaska, wilderness is just outside our door. And though it's hard to put a finger on or point out to a visitor, there is a very true sense that this place is untamed and that it will not be tamed. Why would a girl like me, who has always played it pretty safe, be drawn most deeply to that?

I am deeply grateful for the twists and turns of life that brought me to this place and this time. I never would have chose it. I'm so thankful that it chose me.

What is your spiritual geography? Do you get to live there or only visit? What does that landscape help you to know about your inmost self and your ways of knowing God?


3 comments:

lucy said...

your original "geography" reminds me much of my own which was just a little flatter - Oklahoma. i was always drawn to lakes and water, but thought that was just because they were fun. little did i know, it's part of my spiritual landscape. after living in seattle for 20 years, i cannot imagine living anywhere without vast amounts of water. it is a little cooler here than my perfect temperature, but the visuals are amazing. mountains and water. two of my favorites. i still think i found my perfect spiritual place in kino bay mexico on the sea of cortez - water surrounded by desert and mountains feels like "home" to me.

Nichol said...

I have thought about this blog a lot. I think that i am as always a bit of a contradiction. I chalk it up to the pisces in me.
Never ever in my wildest dreams did I think that I could love the way the country makes me feel here. I have always known the place for me was near water. Sitting at THE perfect spot at THE perfect beach looking at THE perfect view. The smell of the ocean. the sounds of the waves....ah. perfect. Countless hours have been spent at this spot.
It smells like home and feels like home. I can almost picture it.

I get a very similar feeling the further away from the city we get here. the wide open fields. you can see for miles and miles! the fresh air. the openess that makes you feel as if anything is possible.
Amazing to me how two completely different places can make me feel the same peace.

Beth Knight said...

This is a very TIMELY topic for me. I too cherish that Alaska "chose" me and for all the blessing of living here that you articulate about this beautiful geography . I say "ditto" that Alaska will always feel like ONE of my homes. I guess I am different in that I have several homes. I love North Carolina and the smell of the mountains and the ocean when I visit my Dad. I love the Ozarks in fall and spring in Arkansas and could live in that place again which was once my beloved home... I love the pine tree smells of Northern California, Yosemite Park and Flagstaff, Arizona and could make them my home. I think I am a nomad... a gypsy ... because there are several geographies that call to me and have elements of home. Yet in this season of my life my heart calls me to a chapter where there is less geographical mileage between myself and the joy of my heart ... my daughter. My body chemistry thrives best in sunshine and warmth. And I become flat and feel I am struggling to survive through the long dark cold winters of Alaska. I love the feel of the water and sand under my feet as I stroll a beach. I loved the breeze and smells of Hawaii and I cried when we had to fly home. So, truly I am a sun worshiper :) As you say, their are tradeoffs, sacrifices, adjustments, and accommodations to living in a place. Definitely living in a city the size of Orlando vs the wide open spaces of Alaska there will be adjustments (which I have made before). And yet I know that God has something to do through me there as a Spiritual Director, as a Mom to a daughter who will be having children, as a Title Professional who loves the projects and team I will be returning to, and as a child of God who loves to simply see the sun each day, feel sun and warmth on her skin and walk the beach barefoot (often).