The Mystery is Right Next to Us. Learn How to Find It.

The Mystery is Right Next to Us. Learn How to Find It. August 24, 2016
From the North Country Trail Association Website, promotional map.
From the North Country Trail Association Website, promotional map.


In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda pokes Luke Skywalker with his walking stick and says, “I’ve been watching this one. All his life….he has looked away to the future, the horizon…never his mind on where he was…..what he was doing…” I must confess, this is a summary of my life. I’ve always believed there is something better, just beyond the horizon and that belief has led me to neglect the people, places and the Mystery around me.

The dark magic of divorce forces you to reevaluate everything you’ve ever done, said or believed. And, I’ve realized how much my restless discontent contributed to a lot of broken relationships in my life. So, under the direction of a Jesuit spiritual advisor (whom I will now call Yoda), I’m learning to be mindful of my surroundings, the moment and the need to be present. Or, in other words, I need to incarnate where I am – to live in the moments, places and people that God sends my way.

The thing is, in my heart, I’m a traveler, a wandering roamer who likes to find new places, new things and meet new people. I’m not a homebody, content with the world around in the three miles radius of my home and work. And, in many ways, I believe that is a God-given perspective and talent. But, how do I reconcile the need to explore with the need to be present in the moment?

Bringing those two things together is a very difficult thing. But, I’ve started by trying to appreciate the town of South Bend and living in the northern wilds. When I drove into South Bend for my job interview with Ave Maria Press, I couldn’t help but feel depressed. It seemed like another fading Midwestern industrial town whose best days were behind it. I saw closed factories, run-down neighborhoods and people looking depressed. Of course, there is Notre Dame, but that’s an entirely different world, and you can’t live on campus 24/7 if you’re  not a student.

But in living here for two years, I’ve discovered a lot of cool things. I’m 30 miles from some of the most beautiful coastlands I’ve ever seen along the Lake Michigan shoreline. South Bend’s farmers’ market is varied, unique and full of healthy foods. And, there is a growing artist community here that is vibrant, motivated and passionate about living near a bend on the St. Joseph River. There’s the East Race, where you can take a kayak down rapids with a full view of downtown.

One of my dreams has always been to hike the Appalachian Trail. But the reality is, I may never get there. There is no way I can take six months off work and hike the trail. I’ve got three dependent children, a demanding job, and a demanding hobby (writing). If I get to hike the Appalachian Trail, it probably won’t be until my late fifties.

Accepting this reality has been a bit depressing until I took a camping trip at the beginning of July. Having nowhere to go on the fourth, I decided to head up to the UP of Michigan, one of the most beautiful and wild places I’ve ever seen. On a day trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I decided to pick a trail at random. I wanted one that walked right by the lake so I could take in the deep, cold beauty of Lake Superior.

As I started walking, I notice a few hikers carried large backpacks stuffed with things only a person on a long hike would need. I started to look at the trail markings and saw this symbol:


The North Country Trail. How had I never heard of it before? How did I miss it? And, I realized why. I’d been so focused on the AT (Appalachian Trail), I never realized there was a trail in my own back yard. Granted, it’s wilder, some parts are just road with a hope for trail connector, but it reaches from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. It’s our nation’s longest trail and explores the deep wilds of the North.

Here, I realized, was an adventure I could do. I could drive up on weekends and hike parts of the trail. I could take a week long vacation and go on extended hikes. Sure, it may take me a lifetime, but hey, why not? This is a new adventure in my own backyard, my home trail, as it were. Why not take advantage of it? It would cost less money, involve less planning and still provide an amazing experience. All because I’ve started to pay attention and love what is around me.

This, then, is a spiritual gift that I’m learning to accept and grow into. I won’t deny there aren’t times I still bash South Bend and living in Northern Indiana. But, God is opening my eyes to the little things around me and its teaching me to notice those things in other parts of my life as well. I call it, “finding adventure in the little things.”

So, Sick Pilgrims, find God and adventure in the little things around you. Find a park you’ve often overlooked. Maybe there is a historical marker you drive by everyday and never stopped. Stop. Read. Know the history around you. Find what people are doing, either creating beautiful art, making delicious, healthy cookies, or the weird, metal art your neighbor displays with pride. And then, notice the small changes God works in you. They’re not dramatic. Probably no one will ask you to write a book about it. But, you’ll be that much closer to the Mystery, because its always right in front of us, if you try yourself to look closer.

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