Exactly two years ago today I was given a great gift by a nun looking for the highway. It was the end of the day and the only people in the community center where I work were myself and two other staff people. We were discussing how December 18 is a difficult anniversary for each of us. Two of us had serious winter weather car accidents and another received a cancer diagnosis, all on December 18 of various years. We were wondering at the coincidence of that, and how it was good to have other people around us that day for support, when a nun in full habit came rushing in the door. She was “lost,” looking for a state road that is nearby, so we gave her directions and she ran out again, trying to beat the rush hour, holiday traffic. A moment later, the door opened and she came back in with a plastic bag fill with hundreds of small holy medals of the Virgin Mary. She gave each of us one and said, “These will protect you,” even though she knew nothing of what we had been discussing. We all still have them and December 18 has since been less a day about anxiety and more about how sometimes we are blessed by being the recipients of little miracles.
I have thought a lot about this concept of getting “lost” since then. I get lost a lot. In fact, put me behind the wheel of a car and it is as if I have been set down in the middle of a desert with no roads or signs. I can get lost driving down a road four blocks from my home if it is dark and I can’t see the houses to know where I am. I think it is easy to get lost in our world. We are always thinking of five other things as we travel. We rarely can just go slowly, taking in all that we see and experiencing it, getting ourselves oriented as we go. We must be always be somewhere to do something, and probably be three or four somewheres to do three or four different tasks each day.
When I looked for stories of goddesses getting lost in this way, I couldn’t find any. I did come across the stories of Isis and Demeter. Both suffered tremendous losses – Isis of her beloved Osiris and Demeter of her daughter Persephone. Both wandered in the throes of their grief, finally both becoming nursemaids to royal children in places they just happened to be. Both tried to give the babies in their charge the gift of immortality, and as a result, their goddess identities were revealed leading finally to the recovery of their lost loved ones.
It seems to me that the wandering of these goddesses had unexpected good endings because they were not wandering lost, but wandering as a reflection of who they were — goddesses in deep mourning. They weren’t wandering as the result of “doing” something they were tasked with accomplishing but rather as the result of “being” who they were. When they happened across people whom they could serve, they were able to stop and stay long enough to help others and be assisted in return to find their loved ones.
The need to be constantly “doing” is, to my mind, a particularly insidious way that women have been kept from finding, expressing, and living their true natures and power. Only a few generations ago, it was considered morally dangerous for women not be constantly doing some household task because it was believed they would sin if they were not always sewing, mending, cooking, cleaning. Even today, the concept of the “supermom” or “superwife” or even “superemployee” is, to me, the same thing under a different name. It is said that 80% of the work in the world is done by women. Many of us are expected to do the equivalent of two or three jobs, spending endless hours at work and at home. How many of us don’t wake up in the middle of the night solving a problem or listing all the things we need to do the next day? And how are we supposed to find the time and energy to use our voices, create our masterpieces, change our world to suit the needs of all people when we are always chasing the end of our “to-do” list? No wonder we get confused and lost so often.
Maybe we can learn a different way of being lost from those goddesses and the nun. When we take the time to journey, truly be wherever we are, to be of service through gifts of ourselves, we are proclaiming our sacred nature. We diminish ourselves by always feeling that we are only worthy if we are going someplace to do work or even to rest so that we can accomplish something later. Wandering lost as Isis and Demeter did is a celebration of being the divine spirits who we are.
Over the years I have learned is that when I am lost, I shouldn’t stop, but rather just keep going and eventually I will find my way back to somewhere I know. Part of this is likely because the region where I live has two major highways in concentric circles with roads that inevitably lead to one or the other. But I also believe that there is a lesson to be learned. You will get to where you think you are supposed to be eventually, but maybe your inner spirit has made a path for you that requires you to be elsewhere than where you think you are going. Maybe, like the goddesses and the nun, your great and destined work for that moment isn’t written in your weekly planner, but is to be found by stopping, looking around, and seeing what you need to do where you are.
I believe that the same principle holds for all of us together. While we have come a long way in the past couple of centuries, I don’t believe anyone would say that our world is the way we would ultimately like it to be. But, as a result, there are many compassionate tasks to be done and people to spend time with who we would never have met if life were perfect. As we find our way out of the chaos of our current world, let us be like Isis and Demeter and stop along the way, not where we always thought we were going, but not “lost” either.