I stood at the front of the Madeline Island Ferry, holding my hat in my hand lest the breeze blow it off into the waters of Lake Superior. The Apostle Islands, so named because there are 12 of them lying within a few miles of the Wisconsin shoreline, passed slowly by, the closest one reminding me of a dark green version of Moe’s haircut – the Moe of Three Stooges fame. The ferry’s progress through the water gave off a white noise of sorts – a combination of the engines and the disturbance in the water – that was there, but not there, a perfect background to stimulate the thoughts that were forming in my heart and mind. The surface of the lake was broken just enough by the wind to suggest the constant motion, depth and complexity of the unseen life underneath. My heart was roiling like the water in the wake of the ferry’s engines, but it roiled comfortably, confidently, like the water itself, knowing that this was a temporary disturbance, one that would soon pass, leaving my soul as it was before, yet never to be the same.
10 ladies, one man. 10 beautiful ladies, and one beautiful man, each as deep, complex and constantly changing as the lake that so relentlessly defined life on Madeline Island. Diana and I had arrived at the Madeline Island School of the Arts on Sunday afternoon after that outward leg of our summer road trip. We travel so well together – like old blue jeans, yet still excited by the things that make us laugh, the things that we find remarkable about the scenery and about each other; even the creative, sometimes stupid “hinky pinkies” that we come up with. We’ve learned to look forward eagerly to our road trips, because they’re always so – well, they’re just fun. We travel so well together.
Our trip this year took us across I-80 to Des Moines, then North on I-35 through Minnesota. I had never been to Nebraska before, and I was delighted to watch the landscape transition from the high mountain deserts of Wyoming to the green, fruitful prairie of Central Nebraska, to the dramatically rolling hills of GMO corn and soybeans in Iowa. Nebraska itself was a transition state – but the transition gave the state its own unique interest and beauty; kind of like the 10 beautiful ladies I was to meet and rejoice with during the coming week.
We arrived at MISA, checked in, settled into our comfortable little room and waited patiently for the wine and cheese gathering. The compound was so inviting! The red farmhouse type buildings contrasted beautifully with the surrounding richness of the Wisconsin-green forest and meadows. I was so looking forward to a week of exploration, guitar playing, reflection, prayer and writing, all done at my own pace, in my own way. I was also on a spiritual journey. At the party, I became aware that one of the class offerings was a writing class and, in a flash of uncommon impulse and inspiration, I decided to sign up. Sayonara to the exploration, but everything else I expected from this trip was to fall neatly into place – much better than I could ever have planned it myself. Call it serendipity or call it the hand of God, it was to be a magical week.
Fast forward to Friday at 1:00 p.m. – time for the individual readings. The class we had created together during the past week was called “Writing about Transformation / Transforming our Writing”, with Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew. Elizabeth facilitated and contributed as one of the 10 beautiful ladies, but we, the 11 of us, created the class. All through the week, we had dug, reflected, stretched, shared, challenged and understood, sometimes quietly within ourselves, at other times with each other, and often both at the same time. We had shared secrets that we had never shared with anyone else, while we kept other things tight within. We had formulated, constructed, elaborated, described and revised. Then we revised some more. With every revision, we changed – not only did our stories change – we changed. By Friday, it was time to see how much we had changed – time for the final exam.
Mostly, for this final exam, we shared. I had never taken any type of writing class before, and I didn’t realize before this week how much of one’s soul is poured out onto the paper. That’s why, when we shared, we bonded, because we saw for the first time beyond the occasional glimpses that had revealed themselves during the class discussions. We saw, with all the clarity that our mutual emotional investments provided, who we each were – who we had become, over the past week, and over our lifetime. We shared dreams and disappointments, hopes and fears – heart and soul; and we shared them through the riskiest of mediums – through our art.
The stories we shared were stories of power – power wielded unrighteously by others, and power discovered within ourselves. We shared stories of survival in the face of that power. We shared stories of wisdom that can only come from those who have loved and raised children; who have loved and hated, buried and forgiven parents; who have struggled, failed and ultimately triumphed. Our stories were of quiet reflection about things that give life meaning, All of our stories were about relationships, highly complex and layered relationships – with family, with friends, with God and with nature – relationships that molded who we had become.
I learned something priceless and eternal about these 10 beautiful ladies and one beautiful man this past week, and in doing so, I learned something about God. We were beautiful because we were honestly seeking joy. We were looking for God. We didn’t all give Him the same name, and we didn’t all know Him the same way, but we were all looking for Him. Because we were looking for Him, we were beautiful. His beauty and love shone through us and through our love. This was the very love that filled our souls during this week and flowed out to each of us. It was the love that bound us together forever. It was the love that drives each of us to continue seeking meaning, forgiveness, resolution, redemption, even completeness. It was the love that shines the light of faith and hope into the days of our future. It was the love that makes us human, that makes us whole, and in sharing that love, we made each other more beautiful.
I went to Madeline Island this week hoping to get closer to God. During my week there, He lovingly showed Himself – through 10 beautiful women and one beautiful man.