Walking down Folly Beach, SC, I saw a set of stairs leading from a house to the ocean. I imagine that when they were built, the final step rested lightly upon the hard-packed sand and a few steps away from the water. But after years of wind, rain, and tidal currents, layers of sand bury the final few steps.
While some might see the unfortunate effect of erosion, I see parallels between those buried steps and my own spiritual life. At points in my life – before birth, during the innocence of childhood, or at one of those sacramental moments – I felt like my stairway was rightly ordered to the level of the beach, with a smooth transition from the final step to the delights that lay beyond. I could slide easily from the daily grind into a little piece of paradise and return, renewed and refreshed.
Then life hits. The storms come. The winds blow. The currents tug me this way and that. The grains of sand begin to pile on and bury that smooth transition between heaven and earth.
Spiritual growth might be likened to an excavation project. Prayer, meditation, and some spiritual direction would be the main tools – the backhoes and shovels of the spiritual life so to speak. With them, I can clear away the sands of my life that for various reasons have come between me and that perfect point of contact with the divine.
In my training as a spiritual director at Divine Mercy University, the formators and instructors emphasized ‘going deep’. How I’ve seen this play out as a spiritual director is that the directee often begins by talking about life: job, family, children, and marriage. This is like the first layer of sand. Beneath that layer, we explore the emotions: frustration, joy, anger, bewilderment… Beneath that, we start getting close to the heart, the grace-filled place where the Spirit is speaking the loudest. We consider the weightier topics of life and death, love and fear, and loneliness and belonging.
Upon rediscovering that lost connection with that inner sanctuary, we explore the question that encapsulates all of the other questions: “What was it like when those stairs rested gently on the beach?” What was it like when the sands of life didn’t get between your effortless connection between your daily activities and God?
Sometimes just remembering those moments is all that I need to “re-member” that holy connection between heaven and earth that once existed and still exists underneath a few layers of sand. Once remembered, the operative question is this: Where do I need to aim my shovel?
Blessings on your spiritual excavation this summer!