Every time we move, it takes me a minute to find my walk.
My every day walk.
Last year it was walking the campus of Augustana College.
We moved a few miles away from the college in August, and I tried out several neighborhood walks.
Sometime in October, I found Chippiannock Cemetery, and since then, I have been walking with dead people.
Chippiannock is a Sauk and Fox Indian word that means village of the dead.
Which is fitting because throughout the pandemic, many of my most frequent companions have been dead people:
St Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila and Mary Oliver.
There are lots of old stones, and even older trees.
I walked through it when it they were all changing colors.
Bright leaves were shining in all colors to signal that they too were dying.
I don’t know if there is a more beautiful death than autumn.
I always feel an urgency about walking in autumn, like if I skip a day, I might miss the brightest shades of yellow, red and orange.
The graveyard is so large that I don’t see all of it in a day. I only read a few of the stones each time and then I hurry past the rest.
So it was several visits before I found this statue of St Francis.
Ever since walking with St Francis, I love spotting a statue of the saint.
This one is larger than normal. And St Francis’ prayer is printed below it.
There is a little ringed stone path in front of the statue, so I’ve made a habit of stopping here to rest.
I sit and read the prayer.
I write in my journal.
Or read a book.
On a warm day, I might sit here half an hour or more.
I keep trying to memorize the prayer but I forget it just as soon as I walk away.
But then I keep coming back to say it again.
Soon after all the leaves came down, I left to go for a long walk in Arkansas.
When we returned from winter in Arkansas, the graveyard was covered in snow.
But after a few weeks, the snow started melting and slowly I returned to my everyday walk.
The snow melted off of the familiar stones and statues.
And then like magic, new life started to appear in this village of the dead.
Spring is waking the world up all over our town right now, but in the cemetery, the Magnolia liliiflora are stealing the show.
Even the evergreens are brighter from the spring rains.
The weeping pines are edged in new pink pinecone berries.
The needles are softer.
I love to stand underneath the pines. This week I sat underneath one while I watched four deer walk through the graveyard, stopping every few feet to eat from the new green grass.
They are here like me, to taste of the miraculous generosity of the earth, a world that is being remade before our eyes.
It is still cold here and when I step outside, I often have to go back in for another layer.
But the days are getting warmer, longer and more soaked with light.
The hope of spring is here, so I have been cracking my window at night to let it in.
And so I loved finding these words while reading from Gathering Moss:
I shiver in the damp breeze, but I can’t bring myself to close the window on this April night that is sliding off the cusp of winter into spring.
And then, at the end of the same chapter, these words:
…we are all connected by our common understanding of the calls filling the night at the start of spring.
It is the wordless voice of longing that resonates within us, the longing to continue, to participate in the sacred life of the world.
To participate in the sacred life of the world.
A part of the sacred life for me will always be walking outside.
And this year I will remember that the sacred life was also being near death.
I’ve been walking with reminders all around me of how very brief life is.
I watched the TV adaptation of The Good Lord Bird this winter and one of my favorite parts was the end where abolitionist John Brown points out how very short our life is.
He snaps his fingers to show how quickly it passes.
Spring, summer, autumn and winter.
The seasons seem to pass almost as quickly as the time it takes to scroll through the photos I have taken of them.
I’m just trying to stay awake for it.