Writings

Forward

Songyuan asked, 

Why can’t clear-eyed Bodhisattvas sever the red thread?

It’s like I’m a Carmelite nun, she said, 

except that I get to have sex.

FORWARD

Twenty years ago, in a fit of wild openness, my husband and I decided to move. Not just to another city or state, but to another country. It didn’t happen all at once, but about three years after the initial spasm, I found myself transplanted (alone; it took him two and a half years to finish up his work) from the Central California coast where I had a job and a title and important things to do, to the outskirts of a tiny village in the inland mountains of British Columbia. I knew no one. In the interim, we had bought land, designed and built a retreat centre, and convinced ourselves that we could make a living conducting and hosting retreats. 

The final move occurred in mid-January, while the entire west coast of North America was blanketed in ice and snow. After three days of slip-sliding, it was time to cross Snoqualmie Pass, east of Seattle. I had pulled off the road and was lying in the snow, attempting to put chains on the car. Across the median strip, jackknifed trucks blocked the entire westbound lane. My hands were turning blue and snow was melting down my neck as I repeated desperately, “I chose this. I still choose this.” 

I repeated that phrase often over the next years.

            We were wrong about the viability of the retreat centre. A dream and a business plan are not at all the same things; it just took about ten years to learn that. The purpose of the move appears to have been, from this vantage point, to strip away things that needed to be lost so that something new could come in.

            Except I’m not exactly sure what the new is. But that is the nature of new, after all. The Spirit blows where she will. It seems enough now to just try to listen, and to follow. What I follow is something that some of us call the Christ but you could as easily call the Red Thread: a passion for life that’s not tied to a specific person or object, but which binds me and blows my heart open so wide that everything belongs. Whole-heartedness; Incarnational Love; the Christ; the Way of Compassion: whatever you call it, that’s what I try to sense and to follow. 

            The essays in this book are markers from points along my own journey, arranged according to the practices that I find necessary for growth. If I arranged them in chronological order, you might observe that the nature of my language about God has changed; so has the name of our current dog. I didn’t arrange them in chronological order because, like most people I know, I have cycled through the same realizations over and over, each time wearing the groove of knowing a little more deeply into my heart and consciousness. The specific learnings around which I’ve grouped my writing—learning to love what I love, learning to love what I don’t love, the work of paying attention, of seeing clearly, of letting go and of meditating and praying—constitute the heart of my spiritual life. Of course, these practices don’t occur in isolation—I have learned to love what I don’t love, in part, by letting go of my need for control. But I’ve tried to say how a given practice works in my life in hopes that you’ll hear echoes of your own life.

            My hope for you, the reader of this book, is that something you read in this book will move you toward wholeheartedness: it will ignite your inner fire, help you grasp the red thread more firmly, awaken the Christ heart of your own life. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t already have a longing for this. That longing doesn’t mean that something is lacking in you. That longing is the indication that the Holy is alive in you. Notice that.

            Now, about religion. You may notice that I am Christian, broadly so. The “broadly so” part of this has gotten broader over the years; the Christian part has gotten deeper. More accurately, I am a contemplative Christian who learns from and values other traditions. This has been a gradual learning for me, reflected in part in some of these essays. For me personally, Jesus is the express elevator. But that is surely not true for many whom I love and respect. 

            A word about language: I’ve struggled over the years to find a way to speak of the Unspeakable. It’s really impossible, in a world as diverse as this, to find a common language or understanding about the Ultimate. Some of us find our meaning in earth and sky; some in synagogue, mosque, sangha or church; some in the endless cycle of life or music or the well-turned word. When I use the word God, it is as a broad metaphor for that which you find central to life itself. It’s simply a whole lot shorter than saying “The-Love-that-Pulses-at-the Centre-of-the-Universe” or “That-Which-Knits-All-Things-in Love” or “The-Singularity-Before-The-Big-Bang.” (However: What the word “God” doesn’t mean for me is the old guy in the bathrobe.) So I invite you to translate that loaded word “God” into whatever works best for you, whatever it is or whoever it is that holds and grounds your own heart and soul.

            And one more word about language: I use some. I hope it doesn’t get in the way. As a grown-up Catholic schoolgirl, a little swearing feels like relish on the dish.

Singing the Red Dress Song: Stories on the Contemplative Path

Copyright Therese DesCamp 2024

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