There is something beautiful about the changes that come with the seasons of the year. I admit I’m a seasonal man. Growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the seasons were magical. Fall was ablaze with color and winter packed a lot of reverie into those snowy days. Springtime was full of fragrance and new life and summer brought one sunny adventure after another.
What was happening in the world around me seemed to parallel the growth that was taking place in my heart. As I faced changes in my life in the absence of my father, a move to a new home or a new school, tragedies, and triumphs, I began to see that there was a pattern to these seasons in my soul. As one chapter of my life ended and I was forced to let it go, another came to take its place and move me along on my journey. The cycle of life and death in nature spoke to the daily deaths and risings that were a part of my emotional and spiritual development.
As I grew older, I never forgot that sense of connectedness to the seasons of the earth. As a Catholic, I found it helped me to understand more fully the seasons that take place in the Liturgical progression of the Church year. The cycle of readings focusing on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and all the eternal truths and sacred signs that are a part of His coming into the world have been a continuous circle of renewing life, an ever awakening realization that I am loved beyond my understanding and drawn heavenward by my loving Savior, day by precious day.
Discovering Dream Walks
One of the ways I have learned to flesh out what all this means to me is to take what I’ve come to call “Dream Walks.”
Some people go on prayer walks where they lift up praise and petition before the throne of heaven and dialogue with the Creator about their faith journeys and their spiritual needs. Dream Walks are similar but somewhat different. When I go for a walk, I pray to be open to whatever God wants to say to me in the sights and sounds I meet along the way. Then I go on my little journey as if I were in a dream. I take notice of what is around me and imagine that it’s all part of a world that belongs exclusively to me. I ask myself the question: “If this were a dream, what would God be saying to me through _____?” I take in my surroundings with my senses, and through prayer, give them a symbolic meaning as the Holy Spirit speaks to me. I let each thing I see, hear, smell, taste, or touch call to mind a message from the Bible or a sacred reading; and like Jacob or Moses or the prophets, I let this symbolic vision unfold within me and relate to me in the inner silence of my heart.
Sometimes during these walks, I enjoy the wonder of God’s world and listen to the sweet messages its beauty reveals to me. The warmth of the sun reminds me of God’s healing light. The wind that blows assures me that the Spirit’s power is always with me, moving in my life though I know not the ways of its comings and goings. Colors shade my path with life-giving greens, bloody reds, the purity of whites, and the solemnity of deep, dark tones. Sometimes on these walks I meet a shadow of myself I don’t like and find I need to cleanse my soul by confessing my sin and letting it go. Other times I become incredibly aware of how grateful I am for all the graces I have been given and I’m swimming in joy. And occasionally I go deeply into myself and receive a spiritual makeover. After my dream walks, I find I am in a much better place than when I started, even though I have only hiked in a big five-mile circle the entire time!
Tying My Journeys into the Liturgical Year
The journeys I take are given even deeper dimension as I connect them with the Liturgical Year. Each season of the Church has its own power to speak into my life. The six seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Sacred Paschal Triduum, Easter and Ordinary Time help me to focus more fully on the mysterious nature of Christ’s coming into the world, the power of Sacrament and Old Testament Signs, and the beauty of the passage of God’s people through time and eternity toward our heavenly home.
I am in awe of the incarnation, of God putting on flesh and walking among us. I marvel at the Son of God touching His people with human hands, looking into their sorrowful eyes with His, listening to the anguish of their lost souls, and speaking truth to their hearts. I am so grateful too that He left us sacred living signs of His presence so that we may find that same comfort in the Confessional, taste and see His goodness in the Eucharist, and receive his anointing blessing through the Sacrament of the Sick. All of this flows through my mind as I take my Dream Walks; and I am reminded through my surroundings that I am a part of this wonderful, incarnational world that God has given to me.
During Ordinary Time, my walks focus on the day-to-day working out of my life as it connects to the purposeful journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and the cross. I marvel at His miracles as I’m visited by late winter signs of new life or summer storms that blow in on the wind. I drink in His parables as my walks pour forth their symbolic stories to coax me along on my personal journey toward salvation. Advent takes on a deeper sense of expectancy as the chill of winter and the shorter days stir within my soul a longing for the renewal of the earth once again. Christmas brings back solemn and sorrowful memories of childhood. Ghosts of regret are held frozen in the stolen serenity of a snowy scene before being transformed into a misty cloud of forgetting as past and future share the same sacred space. Lent is a time of wilderness testing, when fast and abstinence accompanies a walk and my self-denial more keenly tunes my senses to take in the lessons of life around me. And the Triduum and Easter Season bring the hope of new life to bear upon a springtime world rising from the fertile ground once more.
There is power in every meeting with the Creator as I take these symbolic walks and tie their sensual power to the incarnational character of the Church. In this experience I see the influence of God working itself out in the world. Even now as I attempt to give a voice to these indescribable feelings, I am in awe of their ability to tear down my strongholds and build up my life on the sturdy foundation of the Church I love so much. Each time I take such a walk, I am compelled to turn my experiences into words and spill them out onto the page as a gesture of thanks to the One who has revealed Himself to me as a flesh and blood reality. I see in this mysterious relationship to the Seasons of life and Liturgy a sure and certain hope that the God who took on flesh is holding me securely in the palm of His hand.
The ways in which these walks carry over into my relationship with the Church have brought me a real sense of joy. I find a beautiful harmony of will and emotion through my focused meditation on the great mysteries of my faith. Spending time in God’s Word and the writings of the Church or saintly men and women has become a much deeper and more satisfying experience. I see how God can speak to me with regard to my own personal faith; and yet, I am more intimately connected to the Body of Christ in ways I never thought possible.
The sacraments are a delight to me. The Confessional allows me to lay my burdens down so that I may walk the path of salvation unencumbered. Eucharist is food for my journey. I see my marriage vows with a deeper sense of responsibility and gratitude. And I live out my Baptism and Confirmation through the graces that strengthen me for deeper and deeper levels of revelation as I walk through the ordinary and extraordinary days of my salvation story. Each day is ever new in its potential to bring me to wonder and to strip me of the many faults and failings that hinder my way to the cross and resurrection that lives itself out in my life.
Reality and Revelation
One of the more solemn and sorrowful aspects of my life that is embodied by my Dream Walks is the aloneness that I often face.
While these daily journeys help to connect me with my Lord and my brothers and sisters, there is a profound awareness that the transformation that takes place within me is often mine alone to bear. Some will never understand what these times of inner alteration mean to me. When I explain how a simple encounter with an object or a sunset during a walk has spoken its message of conviction or emotional cleansing, I am often met with polite indifference or confusion. While others can acknowledge that something happens to me on these little soul journeys, it is difficult for them to understand fully what takes place in my soul. It is a bittersweet burden that challenges me to live out the reality of my faith as authentically and unashamedly as I can.
A hope that burns in my heart is that more believers will learn to incorporate the seasons of life and Liturgy into their walks with God. I pray too that my life and awkward poetic ramblings will stir human hearts to seek a more incarnational relationship with the Creator and His Church.
Our God has left us His sacred signs to guide us along the way to the Day of Days when every moment will be Sacrament, every experience will speak of the mysteries of the God-Man, and every breath will share His bond with all creation and every human heart. As I take these precious walks and my larger walk toward salvation, I pray that others will continue to join with me along the seasonal way. God bless!