THE HERON SPIRALS: a commonplace book
by Caroline Balderston Parry
Painting by Rod McIver
This spiraling collection of mid-life journal extracts, integrated with my reflections upon them, chronicles my inner and outer worlds during an approximately fifteen-year period. It is also about my surprising and inspiring heron encounters; the whole is meant to share my expanding spiritual life.
How do we find common language for our spiritual journeys, each one so individual and unique? I want the herons that I find so transformative to be a feathered link between you, as my precious readers, and myself, want the herons to provide a bridge between my story and your own spiritual explorations.
My life cycle journey, beginning in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, moved through childhood and young adulthood to marriage, parenthood and early widowhood. My outward travels evolved to include sojourns in India, England and Israel, while coming to call Canada my home; recently I spent two years in Ohio. I have traversed changing career roles and new lovers, roaming through varied stages: my spirit has grown with each change, in each place. Revisiting many of life’s lessons from different vantage points, my path has seemed more of a spiral than a straight progression through the years.
I have viewed all these spiraling experiences through the lens of being a member of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. I was born into a large established Quaker family, attended a Quaker high school and raised my children in the Society, maintaining an active role in whatever Meeting I have been part of. This lifelong spiritual identity and practice for me began within Christianity and now embraces the world’s religious diversity. During the 1990s I found I am also a person who communes deeply with herons; in the last decade my spirituality has had an additional Unitarian Universalist slant due to my salaried work.
As a Quaker I sit in silent, open waiting, in community with others and with what today I call the Great Spirit. Occasionally I speak a message that fills my awareness. Other times in Quaker meeting for worship, while in response to some power greater than myself, I sing or may weep copiously. In still other places or times of worship I laugh or dance; often I feel at one with Spirit and the group; sometimes awestruck or transformed.
At many different times and places I have written down my thoughts in journals and letters, maybe as poetry or as dialogue with Spirit. I’ve also listened to — and hungrily read — the words of a myriad other seekers, trying to hear the voice of love and mystery that some call God. Sometimes that voice “speaks” through deep conversation, or even casual comments from dear friends and relations, and during my heron years, through those goliath birds. Perhaps you, too, have moved through similar life dimensions. I wonder who — or what — have been your companions?
Along my way I have discovered that, although this path I walk is precisely mine, it overlaps with innumerable others. And so I have collected parallel quotes from a variety of other people’s inward and outward travels, as well as related poems, prayers and songs. I have copied snippets from dozens of those into these pages to amplify my heron experiences. Rod MacIver’s lovely heron artwork illustrates aspects of the shared road.
What has emerged is a collection resembling the old commonplace books. Since the 15th century, and the increasing availability of paper for writing, “commonplaces” have been a kind of themed personal scrapbook, filled with writing of interest to each book’s creator. Commonplaces are best known in England; the protagonist in The English Patient used his copy of Herodotus as a commonplace book. In Lemony Snicket‘s A Series of Unfortunate Events a number of characters keep commonplace books. In this age of the internet, some writers have drawn analogies between web blogs and commonplaces; sites like Pinterest, which provide both visual and verbal collections of what interests the creators, might be electronic commonplaces. Whatever you label it, welcome to this journal-keeper’s musings on herons, on Spirit and on a rich and complex life, complemented by the work of so many others.
I hope this little book will touch both those who have found a faith community or spiritual practice that suits them, and to those who have not. I especially hope my writing will reach those who love the natural world and its herons as I do! The sense of the profound we find in nature is universal, shared with anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of life. And so I invite you to respond to this volume as if it were your own commonplace book, adding to it [via my website] as you see fit.
May the words and images I have chosen to chart my course here resonate for you, wherever you may be on your own journey. May these meditations on the herons, and on other aspects of creation that reflect my own world, help you find renewal, clarity, strength and meaning in yours.