THE LEATHERMAN’S LOOP

My invitation to share experiences and ideas about Holy Week elicited some interesting comments. By ‘Holy Week’ I meant to include not only the heart of the Christian tradition but also the central core of any faith perspective, whether that be religious or not. Some of the responses brought these together by focusing not simply on the suffering of the historical Jesus but also on the importance of suffering itself which many spiritual (and psychological) commentators believe is the critical aspect of the second stage of life. As one commentator (Richard Rohr) puts it, if the first stage of life is characterized by following your bliss, the second is characterized by taking up your cross.

My own conclusions (for the moment!!) about the Christian Holy Week are that I find that it is enough for me to be able to acknowledge the reality of a historical figure in order to ground the essential message that the Christian tradition (and many others) offers: namely that we – and every form of life – are an expression – a child – of what I find helpful to call ‘God-Life’, as my way of reflecting both the universe and its source. In this framework, Christ emerges as the template or blueprint for everything: what the early Christians called the logos. The uniquely human aspect of this message is that we are this God-Life in a self-reflective mode, and that our role, therefore, is to live this mode on behalf of everything in the universe, by deepening our own self-reflective consciousness, through celebrating God-Life in all its forms, and by nurturing this consciousness in our fellow humans as the foundation for human living. My particular focus has increasingly been on Dialogue as the essential way of doing this: participating deliberately in the emergence (dia) of ultimate meaning (logos).

In this post I’d like to explore how we are doing this today: deepening our understanding of and developing our relationship with the world and the God-Life that is its source. This is traditionally the work of religion, however many would complain that institutional religion has not served this purpose well for a long time. The result is that we have looked elsewhere for other ways of doing this essential work, both consciously and deliberately or simply spontaneously. Thus, some have explored aspects of older spiritualities, like meditation, yoga, vision quests, and others have developed the deeper dimensions of food, exercise, art, gardening, etc., while yet others have focused on service and healing of the marginalized and the poor.

The other day I heard Krista Tippett – who interviews spiritual (in this broad sense that I am suggesting) thinkers and leaders on her radio program, On Being (check out https://onbeing.org/ for some good podcasts). She was speaking with Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who is one such thinker and leader and they were discussing how the Christian churches have not served this critical dimension of human life – understanding God-Life and the universe and our place in it – but have become stuck in old and inadequate thinking about these fundamental issues: like transactional redemption or moralistic thinking or imperialistic missioning. On Being is a rich source of examples of how people have addressed this critical need to find meaning and live accordingly. I would like to focus on one that I am part of here in the Cross River NY area. It is called the Leatherman’s Loop. I have written about this elsewhere but let me give a brief background-description of the event before I comment on its significance in the context of this critical need.

The Leatherman was a local hermit-like character in the 19th century who walked a loop of about 350 miles through Northern Westchester and Putnam counties in New York and parts of Eastern Connecticut, stopping at farms for food, but seldom speaking. He dressed in a crude leather outfit and slept in caves along his route, which he followed for about 25 years. It would appear from some sparse evidence (including a French prayer book found on his person when he died in 1889) that he was possibly of French Canadian descent with possible Native American ancestry. The Leatherman is buried in Sparta Cemetery in Ossining, New York. (You can read more about the Leatherman in The Old Leatherman, 2013 by Dan W. DeLuca and Dione Longley)

Over thirty years ago, Tony Godino, a good friend of mine, and many others, created a 10K Trail Run and called it the Leatherman’s Loop. Over the years this run has transformed into an event that many – including Tony – would call spiritual in the sense I described above. Some of the elements of the event highlight this:

  • An identification with the pilgrimage-like journey that the Leatherman made. Once I caught the imagination of many of the runners when I described him as a ‘saunterer,’ suggesting ‘Saint de Terre’ (saint of the earth) from his probable French-Canadian background.
  • An intense connection with Nature at this time of the year – April – that makes the gathering – and the run through the mud – like a rite of spring.
  • The open, inclusive form of the race that brings together national level runners with family groups as well as runners with prostheses whose friends carry them over the river parts of the course.
  • A deep sense of communion among the participants with each other and with the place – the Pound Ridge Reservation – enhanced by shared bagels and coffee.
  • A sense of a wider connection and responsibility that inspires people to run on behalf of someone ill or deceased or to raise money for a cause.
  • A clear sense of ritual that has developed over the years that includes: a ‘Celtic-Navajo’ invocation that as spiritual adviser (a role I am very honored to play) I get to lead for the 1500 runners many of them dressed in Leatherman Loop T-shirts.
  • An expanding network of runners that includes iconic figures like Caballo Blanco (who died while running a few years back and is honored every year), and the famous Tarahumari Indian runners that Chris McDougall wrote about in Born to Run, and whom Caballo Blanco supported.
  • And not least, a deep sense of fun that is expressed in music that ranges from a bagpiper to Mariachis along the route, and in the figure of the Leatherman who wanders the course, posing with runners for photos.

One final piece – though clearly I could go on and on: we often have a theme, which this year is the celebration of the feminine; the birthing energy reflected in the Spring and in the leadership role women our women are taking today in birthing a new society as the old (fear-driven, masculine) one implodes. Of course it is a spirit that is in all of us that the Leatherman’s Loop nurtures, the way good religion, if I may stretch the term, does.

Let me conclude by asking you: does this make sense to you? Have you experienced the Loop? Do you have similar events in your life? How do you nurture your evolving understanding of the universe and our place in it, and, by implication your evolving understanding of and our relationship with God? Your faith? I am obviously not excluding institutional religion where there are certainly communities that do serve this purpose, but I am particularly looking for the new ways that are emerging to address this critical dimension of our lives.

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