This post was written by Paul Quinlivan, a friend from – where else? – The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Paul recently wrote to me about his upcoming journey, asking some questions and expressing an interest to share his journey and his process with you. In this post, he introduces his journey, sharing how it all began and where he stands as he prepares to set off. In a few months, he’ll join us again after he returns, sharing the trials faced, the beauty encountered, the lessons learned, and no doubt the sacred experiences while on his trek.
You are invited to join him in his journey – from the stage of preparation that he shares today, through his pilgrimage by pondering the questions he asks of you and remembering the prayer requests he provides at the bottom of this post, and finally as he returns home and shares his insight in just a few months. -Lacy
If you are anything like me, you wake up in the morning and within the first five minutes you check your phone to see if anyone called or sent you a message during the night.
You then check your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and whatever form of media you employ. Maybe you make a cup of coffee while watching the news and checking BBC, CNN and ESPN. Then you head off to your busy life.
Maybe in the car you make a few calls or send off a few texts – illegal in most states – and listen to the music that will motivate you throughout the day. At work or school you move from meeting to meeting, project to project, class to class, without ever really taking the time to slow down.
If you are anything like this, like me, your life is filled with an overabundance of noise.
Sure, there are quiet moments to be found within the noise: an afternoon surf session, a walk around the lake, coffee with a friend, time in the garden. These moments often give me just enough peace and silence to sustain me for a few days, maybe a week, but in time the noise creeps back in. I find myself jumping from each moment of rest, praying that they will come quick and last long.
How can I possibly hear the voice of God, or know what God wishes for my life in the midst of this chaos?
To be sure, God’s voice is there somewhere.
There’s church of course. The church, however, creates more noise than ever before with rock concerts, five point sermons and mega egos. More often than not, if I’m honest with myself, I go to church out of duty – not because I actually experience God there. In my experience, our churches are not contemplative places where I can slow down, breathe, and rest in the beauty of God’s love. This isn’t to say God isn’t there, or that I shouldn’t be hearing God’s voice – but the reality is that the church does not always create spaces that help us to listen well.
Living this way everyday exhausts me. This constant back and forth, seeming like I am just holding onto life causes me to desire to be like a leaf in the wind, wandering and floating, completely unstuck in the world.
There is a reason why some of the most influential literary adventures of all time start with a journey. Whether in Narnia or Middle Earth, these journeys whisk us away from our ordinary, noisy lives and invite us to something more. The characters find purpose and meaning while on the road to slay the witch or destroy the ring.
“There is a reason why some of the most influential literary adventures
of all time start with a journey… these journeys whisk us away from
our ordinary, noisy lives and invite us to something more.”
It is with this in mind that I set out on one of the greatest adventures of my life, to solitarily hike 623 miles from Crater Lake, Oregon to Stevens Pass, Washington along the Pacific Crest Trail. In the words of Paul Shepard: I go “not to escape, but to find reality.”
The idea for my great adventure came a little over a year ago. The community I was a part of was in the midst of a significant rupture. Disoriented and isolated, I found myself reaching out to the stillness of the forest. It was on the trails in the wilderness that my unadulterated mind could discern God calling me to something more.
When I had a meeting a week later to discuss my Integrative Project (a thesis-like capstone project at my graduate school), I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to not only complete my project, but also explore the depths of my soul. And so, I made a plan to set off on this great adventure.
While the big picture is complex, the details are fairly straightforward: I will hike a total of 623.8 miles in 45 days averaging 14 miles a day, hopefully more in order to take a weekly Sabbath.
Unlike the person who climbs Everest for pride and glory, I walk with the intention of listening – to listen to nature, to listen to people I meet on the trail, to listen to my own story, and most importantly, to listen for the voice of God.
“I walk with the intention of listening – to listen to nature,
to listen to people I meet on the trail, to listen to my own story,
and most importantly, to listen for the voice of God.”
The completion of miles is of no consequence compared to the experience of walking. A friend (asacredjourney.net’s liturgical guide Hilary Ann Golden – read her posts here) and I have co-created a “liturgy for walking” to aid in the daily practice of listening. As I journey over the terrain each day I will pray, sing and journal my way across Oregon and Washington.
Because of the impossibility of carrying six weeks of food, I will periodically need to re-supply at different intervals throughout the trip. The physical toll of the trail will require that I consume over 4000 calories a day. Some of the resupplies will come from boxes mailed ahead and some will come from my wife and friends as they not only bring needed carbohydrates, but also companionship.
Even before setting out, the journey has already proven difficult. I have had to come to terms with the grief of not being near intimate relationships and modern comforts, while also being confronted with my own physical limitations. I have had to put professional opportunities on hold, and fight – truly fight – for the prospect to step out of the chaos and listen.
I have been drawn to the words of Wendell Berry when he mentions:
“True solitude is found in the wild places,
where one is without human obligation.
One’s inner voices become audible.
One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.
In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.
The more coherent one becomes
within oneself as a creature,
the more fully one enters into the
communion of all creatures.
One returns from solitude laden
with the gifts of circumstance.”
On July 1st, with nothing other than the food, clothing, and equipment that I can carry, I will set out on a journey into the wilderness to listen deeply.
Sometimes you just need to leave all the noise and pursue the adventures of life on the road – see the wind dance with the trees, feel the soles of your feet meet the dust of the earth, and listen attentively to the deep longings of your heart.
Where do you experience noise in your life? In what places do you feel your soul pulling you to explore the freedom of silence? What steps do you need to take to pursue these deep longings of your soul? What stands in your way of this pursuit?
Also, please journey with me in prayer while I journey. Pray for safety on the road, pray about the inevitable loneliness to come from isolation, and in the words of Mumford and Sons, pray that my soul would “awake” and become attentive to the most intimate of sources. -Paul