Spirituality for Today – Spring 2021 – Volume 25, Issue 3

My Good Friday Walk

Richard B. Patterson

I have long been drawn to the theme of the journey. Stories ranging from "The Snow Leopard" to "Lonesome Dove" have always drawn me with their theme of finding inner truth while travelling. As such, I have also been intrigued by pilgrimages – journeys that typically have a religious focus or goal. Whether exploring the well-known Camino del Santiago or lesser known pilgrimages such as the Cistercian Walk in Wales, I am intrigued by such spiritual experience. Unfortunately, I do not either have or make the time for such adventures. And so, each Good Friday I walk home from my office. The distance is about 11 miles and it takes me 2.5 to 3 hours to complete. My Good Friday walk has become my annual pilgrimage.

Some have asked me why I do this. Like most pilgrims, I am seeking a deeper connection with the God of my understanding or perhaps some deeper understanding or insight to light my way. What often happens, though, is that I receive a reminder to let go and be open to whatever God might offer.

Letting go, however, is only one piece of the spiritual puzzle. The other piece has to do with paying attention.

I began one walk reflecting on Good Friday and all that I do and don’t understand about that remarkable day. Somewhere further along, my mind wandered from Good Friday to thinking about "mindfulness", a very popular notion in my field of psychology. Mindfulness basically refers to focusing on the present moment. It reminds of the challenge of paying attention. Ironically, as I pondered mindfulness, I almost missed the gift.

Something or someone whispered that I look to the left. From the eaves of a home were hanging seven or eight bird cages, each with several canaries. The birds were singing away, oblivious to the passing traffic or to the silent observer. Their singing was beautiful and transported me to another concert I’d been privileged to witness.

Some years before, my good friend Lou came to my office for a visit. He brought with him two covered cages. When he removed the covers, each cage housed 2 canaries, all of whom immediately began to sing. Within a few short moments, their singing became synchronized. It was mesmerizing and very peaceful.

Months later, I visited Lou as he lay dying of AIDS. He told me he’d written some thoughts that he’d like for me to share at his funeral. I was touched and deeply honored. Lou’s last words used Isaiah 26:19 as a point of meditation: "The dead shall live.

Their bodies shall rise. Oh dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy." After sharing his spin on this passage, Lou said: "I know what I am doing right now… I am singing, with the simplicity and fervor of the canaries I raised… Singing with loved ones that went before me…If you listen very carefully, you will be able to hear me singing." Lou then reminded us that we each have a song within us: "That unique song of yours is the best gift you could ever give me, yourself, and your universe."

What a beautiful image! Music has been a significant part of my life and especially of my spiritual journey. One of my earliest memories is sitting next to a Victrola (Record player!) playing records, seeking comfort amidst the deep sadness in my own home during those days. Music since then has continued to comfort me. It helps me articulate deep feelings. It expresses profound moments spent with dying loved ones. It affords healing and connection. Thus, nothing speaks to me of death the way Holst’s "Jupiter" does. Nothing captures my spiritual journey like John Denver’s "Looking for Space". And Perry Como singing "Bless This House" captures my love of and gratitude for family.

Lou’s thought suggests that within each of us are qualities that are profound and beautiful – just like music. A true song! Each of us is challenged to find that song and to sing it with vigor, indeed making a joyful noise. We are challenged that we not let that song be silenced by self-doubt and judgment. We are invited to awake and sing!

As I walked on from the singing canaries, I realized that the birds were the gift for that day. They served as a reminder of that inner song and as a challenge to allow that song to rise and fill my days.

As with this walk, my Good Friday walks have always humbled me, in part because of the guidance received and in part because of the gentle reminder to listen. If my Good Friday walks remind me of anything, it is the words of my favorite Psalm: "Be still and know that I am God."