17025779 - a view of the chrismas shopping at the eaton center in toronto

We arrived early morning at the trail head, parked the car, and pulled the backpacks out of the trunk and strapped them onto our backs. We set out for a short backpacking adventure in the magnificence Smoky Mountains. We encountered no other humans on our trip, but were keenly aware of the many forest inhabitants and the presence of the forest itself. An hour into the trek, we each settled into a comfortable cadence which meant my husband Brice was way up ahead.

I found myself practically alone in the most gorgeous spot on Earth; it felt to me like God’s cathedral. I drank in the beauty and majesty of the place, and my mind fell into a calm silence. A voice in my head finally broke the silence. “Empty yourself,” it said. I listened and attempted to release into the ground anything I’d been holding onto. “Empty yourself,” I heard again. I did my best to follow the instructions and let everything go. “Empty yourself,” I heard a third and fourth time. After the last I replied, “I let go of everything but my love.”

“Let go of your limited version of love, for it gets in the way of my love flowing through you.” Needless to say, these words blew my mind. I reflected on their meaning for the remainder of the hike. It probably took me a year to completely see all the ways I limited love. To me, being loving meant saying yes, being in agreement, and pleasing the other.  I thought love was gentle, passive, and weak.

Eventually, I had the experience of love as the most powerful force in the universe, the glue that holds the universe together, and a Divine intelligence that moves through one’s life. I came to know love can be soft, open, and yielding, yet capable of being firm, solid, and unmovable. I learned love doesn’t mean remaining passive or complacent, bypassing emotions, or avoiding conflict. In fact, I found human love to be messy, complete with heartbreak and grief, rejection and loneliness, misunderstandings and disagreements, coupled with a joy, connection, and intimacy that makes it all worthwhile. Most importantly, I discovered love is my very nature, and yours, and God’s. In a nutshell, all I thought I knew about love was incorrect or barely scratched the surface. Love is unfathomable.

Fast forward to twelve years later. My daughter, Juniper, and I made a trip to the largest mall in our area of western Massachusetts. I have an aversion to shopping at malls, particularly those with a huge number of stores, people, and stuff. I often get overwhelmed by the great amount of choices, the bright lights, and strong smells. This time was no different. We took a break on a bench and looked into each other’s teary eyes, sharing how most people we encountered especially the sales people seemed disconnected.

In the car ride home, my daughter began firing questions at me: Do you love me? Do you love Daddy? Do you love yourself? Do you love the mall? Do you love America? Do you love materialism? Do you love Hitler? Do you love war? Do you love genocide? Do you love famine? Do you love child homicide? Do you love slavery? I answered honestly without thinking, and said “yes” to each question except for the ones regarding genocide and child homicide, to which I replied, “no, not yet.”

How is it I could say yes to most of her questions? Why would I even want to say yes to them? I’ve begun to see whatever I encounter in my life “out there” is also inside of me. If I am one with all of humanity, with all life, then to fully love myself is to love all of life, and vice versa. I can still have preferences, like shopping online instead of at malls, and can still play my part to make a positive impact on the world. However, if I wish to transform something, inside or outside of me, I find I’m most effective when I love and accept it first.

So, I opened myself up to loving the mall and my experience there, not necessarily needing to like it. What emerged in me was an ancient memory of the market place. I got in touch with a deep nostalgia for those gathering places full of people selling their wares, their handiwork and their homegrown and homemade food, rich with delicious aromas and tastes, overflowing with a sense of community and connection. I visited one recently on my trip to Guatemala. I can now see why our time at the mall left me feeling overwhelmed and disconnected, as I live for deep meaningful connection and subconsciously I’d hoped to find it there.

I admit I don’t understand much about love. I do know we are all made of love, and all deserving of God’s love. Now that I’ve given up my small limited version of love and allowed God’s love to flow through me,

…whoever and whatever shows up, I love them.

backpacking