These summer months grace us with moments of peace, awe, refreshment, whether we find ourselves walking in a forest, standing by a lake, gazing at an ocean, or looking deep into the night sky. Our souls respond to these glimpses of beauty, truth, and meaning. Sometimes, it is only later that we grasp the significance of what we have seen.
Reflecting with you on a Sacred Feminine presence, a memory stirs.
It is July, 2005. I am driving towards my first encounter with Jean Houston.
In the deepening dusk, the spruce and fir trees on either side of the narrow road bend towards me. I hope it is in welcome. The car struggles with the climb up into the mountains, as though it is a living thing, exhausted. I have already passed the entrance to Crater Lake National Park, but there was no one there to take the entry fee. There are no other cars on the road, nor have I seen any for the past twenty minutes. None of these signs alert me to the risk I am taking approaching a place as wild as any untamed mountain creature.
Early on that morning when I said goodbye to my friends at the Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho, I did not know that Crater Lake existed. Three hours later in the small town of Waitsburg, the restaurant owner who served me a late breakfast sent my plans cartwheeling.
“Where are you headed?” The question was friendly, interested, an offer of conversation to his only customer.
I told him I needed to reach Ashland Oregon by the following day. “For a ten-day course in Social Artistry,” I added.
But it was not the journey’s purpose that interested him. “You taking 97 South?”
“No,” I said, showing him my multi-paged MapQuest Route. “Straight south down the Interstate 5.”
But he wouldn’t hear of it. “Take 97 South. You have to see Crater Lake.” And he disappeared into the living space behind the restaurant, returning like a squirrel with a stored treasure, a brochure that offered routes, photos, and the amazing history of this crater, formed when a mountain blew its top in a volcanic eruption thousands of years earlier.
MapQuest had been my security blanket on a journey I’d never made before; yet the kindness of this stranger, his eagerness for me not to miss something of incomparable beauty, won me over.
Now, after a full day’s journey, most of it through the desert of Oregon in temperatures that topped one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, I have arrived. The trees to my left suddenly part to reveal a shimmering surface where Crater Lake bends and curves within the arms of its great rock bowl, glowing in the last light of day.
Crater Lake, Oregon
I pull over to park beside the low stone wall and stand gazing out at a stillness that calms and fills me. Already on its distant edges I can see wisps of mist rising as the cooling air caresses the water’s surface. I stand here for a long while, knowing I am seeing something that Native American Shamans forbade their people to look upon, a lake discovered by others only in the 1850’s. For more than seven thousand years, rain and snow have been quietly filling the bowl of a collapsed mountain to create one of the purest and deepest lakes on the planet.
I climb back into the car, the darkness deepening as I drive further into the mountains. I look to the left, to the east, to the place of new beginnings, where the lake still glows, a grey white opal in the evening. Just beyond the edge of the narrow road, to my right, in the west, the place of endings, the sun is setting, a giant orange-red thumb print. Below it, I gaze at the tops of purple mountains.
I am glimpsing a metaphor for the spirituality I have been seeking for a long while, though I will only understand it later.
Twenty-four hours later, I walk into a room at Ashland University to find some ninety persons gathered most as well-aged as myself, and many even dressed like me in long skirts and flowing tunic tops. Like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch, I know I am at home. As the days move on, I discover I am living with these people a spirituality that we share, though we have come from religious traditions as divergent as Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Protestant, and Native American.
In the Closing Ritual, Jean invites each of us to say what we feel called to do with our lives after this experience. I say to the group gathered around our ersatz altar, covered with the UN flag of the planet earth, and vases of flowers, “I want to weave into the new spirituality all the passion and love and beauty that was Christianity.”
Crater Lake has become for me an image of how the Holy One has been quietly filling a new, wonderfully feminine container with the waters of a new spirituality for our planet, gathering over thousands of years, while just as quietly, and with equal slowness, the mountains of patriarchal religions are sinking into their purple depths under the ember eye of the setting sun.
It’s not something we are waiting for; it’s already present among us, inviting us to rejoice in a faithful One who knows the longings of our hearts.