Two times in my life, I have taken a road trip with family members to the American Southwest and the West Coast.
There was an awful lot to take in on both drives and an awful lot missed with being under a time crunch.
Still, what I liked most about driving on the open road through unfamiliar landscapes is how doing so immediately opened my heart and expanded my spirit. At least from my vantage point, I was looking at the big picture most of the way, and not so much at the details. From mountains to valleys and canyons and deserts to oceans and prairies, there is much to savor in our beautiful country.
That bird's eye view has made me long to return to those landscapes, but as I was driving home in the late afternoon from an Ottawa meeting recently, I realized the same effect is possible right here in Starved Rock Country, despite the familiarity that comes with living in one place most of your life.
I noticed on my routine trip on Route 23 between Ottawa and Streator the trees are all barren and their interiors are in the midst of descent into the ground for winter hibernation. That, coupled with a clear autumn sky and harvested fields in every direction, paralleled the vast, limitless space inside my heart and yours, a space we so often forget is there and open for exploration.
And while the wide open view of the place we call home has a way of expanding our hearts, we also know that all those details with which we are familiar in our daily lives have a place in our hearts as well.
I have written here before of my curiosity and love for the mystery of the heart. I'm sure it probably comes across in my weekly writings, at least I hope it does; but if there is one thing I strive for in this life, it is to be genuine and to live from the unique heartspace that is mine, planted in me and nurtured through every changing season by the Creator of all those other wild landscapes with which I am enamored.
As much as we want something so noble as that, however, we know how difficult it can be to do so all the time.
We fall. Sometimes hard. But with each fall, we try harder, with a little thing called grace, to get back up again.
That's why it is important to take time regularly to drop from the mind into the heart, as teachers from so many spiritual traditions have told us. One author who is particularly eloquent on this subject is the late Henri Nouwen in his small but powerful book "The Way of the Heart."
The mind and the heart are both wondrous creations, as are the rest of our bodies and souls. We need to care for both of them, but I would venture to say in this day and age, we need especially to nurture our hearts and notice the dark corners that keep us from recognizing each other as our brothers and sisters, and the responsibility we have to care for them as such.
- SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality in The Times' readership area. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.