Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

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Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it? 

Here is my answer.

My Haven

Helen HaileSelassie

Helen HaileSelassie

There are plenty of life occasions that entice us to go in search of a place of refuge, of a space that promises calm and safety. My haven is shared amongst many and yet unique only to me. It is within the confines of an age-old building with explicitly carved stone walls encasing stained colorful windows that capture the reflection of light and disperse it into countless angles of rays. It is a church I frequent, a corner of it I have silently claimed as my own, the small encapsulated space within the grander place that has relentlessly and benevolently heard my secrets, witnessed my tears, and shouldered my burdens. It is the place that allows me to revert into my soul and lets me touch the purest surface of my consciousness.

From the moment I open the gigantic wooden doors that require the strength of both my arms, I am welcomed by the strange yet familiar scent of incense. As smell is one of the strongest triggers of memory, I am inevitably transposed into a space that is warm, forgiving, and guiding. The echoes of my footsteps on the linoleum floor awakens me to the reality of my physical surrounding. I look around and see the wooden pews with a bible on each seat lining the length of the church. I make my way past the tired looking pews, no doubt invisibly bearing the mortal burdens of unconsoled souls. I reach the front of the church with the elaborately decorated altar before I pass the innumerable candles lighting away the sins of the worldly existence and begging to be saved for a life that is unknown. With each step I take, getting closer to the quiet corner I always kneel by, I can feel the pressure of the days and months leaving my body, the past and the future losing significance, and only being surrounded by the peace that seems to emanate from the unseen and intangible to penetrate acutely into my mind, heart and soul.

As I kneel on both knees, I am reminded of the countless things I am grateful for. This mere act of being thankful for my blessings instills in me a sense of fulfillment and calm that would normally be elusive in the daily routine of life. As my prayer continues from thankfulness to that of guidance, I feel in touch with a divine being. Some would say this is the power of the creator and others would argue that it is merely reconnecting with the God in us. I choose not to get too entangled with the intricacy that has no perceptible answer of whether there is a divine being in all of us that we can tap into through prayer and meditation. But I know only the feeling of sacredness that exists in the place I find to be my Haven, the source of which is beyond the tangible world and lies in the secrets of the divine. It is the place that has quieted down my anxieties, delivered the answers to my worries, guided me to follow the path that has been set and assured me that if I practice letting go, the answers will always manifest. So time and again, when the natural and ordinary world fails me, I show up at my haven to make peace with the unknown in return for immediate calm and eternal joy.

Haven Winter

Brenda Johnson Kame’enui

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Tall Douglas fir and cedar trees line the road, boughs bowed to the ground with the burden of snow. A breeze tosses branches and sunshine catches flakes in flight. The glitter against the sky is dazzling.

“My stars!” I say. What? My mother, widely recognized for her pithy expressions, used to say that, but I don’t remember ever saying it myself. In the few years since Mom died, my sister and I have entertained ourselves with imitations of our mother, but we haven’t called on the stars.

You’d be taller if you didn’t have so much turned under at the ankle; you look like something sent for that couldn’t come; a horse apiece; six of one, half dozen of another; don’t wish your life away.

This is a star-studded moment. The sky, icy blue between trees, above trees, and through lacy branches, features a faint star here and there. I’ve braced myself against the cold with mittens and mufflers to spare, and I point my skis down the trail. There’s nothing left but the poetry of this moment in this place. I’m lucky to spend a week in the North Cascade Mountains.

The sun’s warmth releases snow from an upper branch. “Plop.” The silly sound repeats on a sunny stretch of the path ahead. The snow is cold and dry, and the trail is fast–someone skied out ahead of me this morning. The hills are a satisfying challenge, and the rhythm is easy. Lift, glide; lift, glide.

I break new trail as I cross Railroad Creek on the footbridge, moving through fresh snow piled in a narrow wedge between railings. The creek’s riffles reflect the sun, and the water is fast but clear. I can count the rocks on the river bottom. If I stood here long enough, I imagine I would spot fish tucked under speckled rocks at the edge of an eddy.

Across the creek, I climb a tabletop hill. It’s a long, steep cut through fresh snow, but I’m not breathless as I reach the top and pick up speed. The North Cascades loom in dazzling splendor both behind me and up ahead.

At home in Oregon, the Cascade Range forms an orderly line—plink, plink, plink—of volcanic mountains, from the Crater Lake caldera, north past the Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson to Mt. Hood. I’ve skied below and between these ancient volcanoes, and there I’ve also uttered variations of awe and wonder. On a recent ski to Potato Hill, I proclaimed, over and over again, “I am so happy!” The  constant refrain didn’t annoy my skiing companion, who made the same excited exclamation. When we skied into a clearing with a view of the Three Sisters and Three-Fingered Jack, we both shrieked.

The North Cascades of Washington are different. The “Alps of the West,” these Cascades tower in magnificent clusters. Every step is a photographic moment. I ski a wide arc on the wide tabletop, taking advantage of the 360-degree view. This is the best. I am so happy.

When I leave the flat stretch to ski down through the trees, I must pay attention to navigate the trail. I hear nothing but the glide of my skis and the wind soughing in the trees. I move in and out of their shelter, careful to avoid the tree wells.

I ski from one sanctuary in the woods to the next. There is no place I would rather be. I arrive at another clearing with another imposing view. The mountains have moved even closer. My stars! Don’t wish your life away. 

2 Comments

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2 Responses to Haven Winter Blog Series: My Haven

  1. Dear Helen, What a lovely piece! How lucky you are to have such a beautiful Haven with walls carved in stone and worn pews holding countless prayers. Your work is wonderful and comforting. I worked in a historical church for a few years. It was built in 1842 as a family chapel with beautiful stained glass. Small and cozy it welcomed everyone. I loved to sit in it alone. I loved to sit in it when it was full. I loved your Haven!

    Dear Brenda, What a fresh, fun, beautiful piece! I could feel the chill in the air and the excitement of your happiness. What a great way to show us your Haven by having us go along with you! I must admit I haven’t skied in years now, we used to go quite often before lift tickets here on the East Coast skyrocketed. Now for a family to get lift ticket’s for a day – is comparable to a day at Disney! It’s sad because my own children have not experienced the joy and freedom you expressed so well listening to the songs of the mountain, feeling it move beneath your feet and shouting at the beauty of your Haven.
    Well done ladies, very well done!
    Patty

  2. Anne Arthur

    Both pieces go straight to my soul. I have such a church spot too, to soothe my soul. And the majesty of nature never fails to amaze me.
    These words are written with love, and your hearts are shining through. Beautiful, ladies!

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