Every year in the days before my birthday, I make time to remember why I was born. I’ll take a walk in the woods, perhaps a long bath, and spend some hours writing in my journal, seeking to sense more strongly the larger purpose for my life. I try to tune in more clearly to the specific leading of the Spirit I may be following at the moment. I ask myself, am I called to something more or different than what I’m doing now? Am I distracted and drifting off course? Has the link to the larger purpose become faint? I pay attention more closely, inwardly. I open up to a fresh infusion of the Spirit. Sometimes I get in touch with something that’s constraining, distracting or burdening me, and I receive inward and sometimes outward help in letting go and moving into more freedom. Sometimes I remember more clearly how I’m blessed by the relationships in my life, and I allow love to flow more abundantly. Whatever comes, it’s like a birthday present from Life.
Of course, it’s valuable to take some time every day to reconnect in some way with our life purpose and the divine Love that created us and that is always moving us toward a more abundant life. There come times in our lives, however, when something more than our regular daily, weekly, or annual routines of spiritual practice are needed, turning points in life when we are called to devote a larger period of time to look at where we have been and where we are called to go. At such times we usually need to strip away a lot of what fills our time and pulls our attention outward. The process of letting go of what we have been can make us feel naked. In that nakedness, we wait to hear what we’re now called to become.
A lovely new book by Quaker Iris Graville, Hiking Naked, describes time her family spent on a remote island. For all of them – husband, wife, and teenage twins – but especially for her, it was a time to check the inner compass, reconnect with what is most important, and reorient to a new stage in life.
Graville had worked for a long time as a public health nurse, then as a supervisor of public health services. She had followed a calling into service that had been meaningful, though challenging, for a long time. In her forties, however, she recognized that she was experiencing burnout and that something needed to change. The first sign that her life was about to blossom in an unexpected way was the impulse to change her name to Iris.
She and her husband had been taking an annual summer vacation in a remote village, while their children visited grandparents. Then the whole family added an annual winter vacation there. For years they had been fantasizing about finding a way to spend a whole year living in the tiny village. That fantasy had never seemed practical.
But when burnout came, Graville received what Quakers refer to as a leading: a still, small, inner voice guiding her and her family to take a time apart from the busy-ness of the world, to live in Stehekin, WA, a little village at the end of a 55-mile-long lake. She felt this leading during a three-hour drive home over the mountains in Washington State. When the radio signals were blocked by mountains on either side, she was driving alone in silence. The thoughts in her mind about her family spending a year living in Stehekin then took on a different quality than the familiar fantasy:
My heart rate quickened and my mind raced with ideas about making Stehekin our home for at least a year. I imagined quitting my job and renting our house out. Even as I thought to myself, this is crazy, I felt a presence, urging me along, stripping away obstacles. It wasn’t that I heard a booming, God-like voice speaking to me, but I sensed a wisdom there with me, opening me to a vision of how things could be. The energy that was compelling me seemed to be coming from a different level of awareness than my usual decision-making approach listing pros and cons, obstacles and opportunities. Another Quaker term, leadings, conveys that awareness of being urged by God to take some action, and that night I was feeling led as surely as the highway was routing me over the mountain pass.
When her husband and children expressed openness to the adventure, they explored the practical details that would make the year away a real possibility – a leave of absence from work, new school, housing, temporary jobs, familial and financial arrangements. Iris and her husband, Jerry, met with some fellow Quakers for a clearness committee meeting, to test if this was a real leading of the Spirit. The committee members asked them questions, listened prayerfully to their answers, and agreed that they were clear.
The family saved money, moved to Stehekin, and settled in to a new way of life. At three-thirty am, Iris rode her bicycle in the dark to the village bakery, where she learned how to bake breads and pastries. Her husband drove a bus. Their teenage twins flourished in a one-room schoolhouse. Together the family encountered wildfire, flood, deep snow, power outages, bears, and the deaths of some people they loved. They also enjoyed hikes in the wilderness and family time in their small cabin, including visits with extended family and friends from home. When the bakery closed for the winter, Iris had lots of time for solitude. Taking long walks and sitting with her journal, she listened for guidance about the long-term changes she sensed she needed to make. She had been called to service in the public health field for a long time, but now new calling was seeking to emerge. The time in Stehekin helped all the members of the family discover more about who they were and what they loved most. Eventually, the Inner Guide led them to a new life they didn’t imagine before.
This book, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, is the third that Iris Graville has written since her family followed the leading to live in Stehekin. It’s a sparkling account of a woman listening to the voice of her soul, and a family healthy enough to welcome unexpected adventure. We need more stories like this, that reveal how we all can be guided by holy wisdom from within, if we take the time to listen and have the courage to follow where it leads.
A book review of Hiking Naked, published by Friends Journal, includes a link to order the book online.
Hiking Naked: Have there been times in your life when you followed a leading to take a time apart and listen more deeply for new direction?
© 2017 Marcelle Martin
For information about other upcoming courses and workshops with Marcelle, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.
Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, the book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness.