My friend Sarah, a writer, gives me a word of advice.
“Emma, tell them what it is about up front.” I tell her about my struggle – trying to summarise the events of the last seven years into a thousand words. It’s not going to happen like that, I say. She wrote the first paragraph of this essay when I told her my fears of writing it. “Start from there,” she said. And so I did.
This essay is about answering the call. I wanted to write a true account of the conversation that begins between you and the call once you have heard it for the first time. It’s like answering the phone. For the record, these are the lessons I have learnt. Repeatedly. Over and over again until I got the message. To answer the call is to enter into a dialogue. It is an initiation. A test of faith. I share this account in the hope it may be of service, and knowing that it will only ever touch the surface.
There is a lot of talk these days about finding your calling in life. It comes out in words like purpose and meaning, to follow your dreams and to find the end of the rainbow. Entire industries have been created to take your money and help you find your way to your true self. As if there, at that magical place of ending, something will happen and all will be well. The destination is a land of dragons, milk and honey. It is Honalee and Shambala. It is Eden. It is Heaven on Earth.
I would hate to shatter that illusion. So I will not. It is true. Belinda was correct: Heaven is a place on Earth. But be warned, the joker will use every trick in the book to get you there, once you say out loud: “I answer the call.” That soul commitment you make, when you really mean it, when it is just you and a notion of god or the earth or the universe in the room. That type of statement has power. It is an incantation, a prayer. Something, somewhere, hears it ring out like a bell. And then what happens next is anyone’s guess.
This is about a calling that turns into devotion. A story of vocation. To be in service to something greater, without ever knowing the destination. This is when the call takes precedence. Nothing and no one will get in its way. Not even you. Not even the idea of you.
It all started with a map. I drew a mountain on a map to myself about dreams that I wanted to come true. It began as a form of escape. An act of desperation. I was on my knees. Burnt out.
I heard the words:
Empty yourself and get out of the way. Empty so you can be filled, you little chalice you. There is a gift I want to give you, are you ready to receive?
A genie, with a magic chalice. The Holy Grail.
The task is still as great a challenge today as it was then. So many things in the way. So many stories and parts of myself. The parts of the whole, the Oneness. What is abundantly clear to me now is the appearance of this human mind trying to solve its way to the next point on the map. It walks into the room with a pair of pants on its head shouting, “I’m here, all eyes on me, people!”
The pants-on-head version of me is jumping up and down, trying to distract me from the phone like a small child. It continues to interrupt the conversation. “So how shall we get from A to B? Possibly via C or D? Because I’m sure there was something there I remember or wanted to look at. There’s a great restaurant somebody told me about. Time Out recommends we stop here.” The mind gets out the Google map, covering my eyes in a planned itinerary. Rational and in control and organised. That’s the way of the mind. Nice and ordered; no chaos here, please.
I stop. Listening to the water, something settles. Deeper. There is wisdom in the soles of my feet, the sway in this human body. The waves crashing on the shore and I am to go under. To a place of chaos and a place of grace.
On that day when I scribbled the mountain for the first time, nothing made sense. But the feeling was crystal-clear. I could hear it. It felt like home.
Come to me, it said. Come to me, beautiful one, and breathe. Come find me, if you dare. Walk through the door.
There’s something no one tells you about answering the call. And that is that it will serve you best to put down any notion that you may be in control. That anything you do that may originate in the world you came from will not work here. The rules are not the same. These are uncharted territories, and I wonder, is this the last realm of exploration available to us modern-day explorers? There is an adventure here to be had, and we are here to remember. Here to remember what it means to listen again. Listening to something so old and so ancient. It fills us with tears as we remember that feeling of home and belonging. Yet, at the same time, the feelings are so strange and unusual, it feels like madness. We have now entered into the land of myth and mystic.
I smile as I observe how I go about the world now compared to then; the younger me would not recognise this face. We might pass each other as strangers on the street, like the day a woman I had never met, staring deeply into my eyes, said “Make refuge.” Or the woman who arrived on my doorstep from a faraway land, and told me how she had started to have dreams about being burnt alive inside a church. The woman who left me a piece of paper with the words, “A primal call. A complex beat. A basic truth.” Or the woman who talks to me through tears about the chalk and the flint and the memory in her bones. The women who now contact me daily about healing the earth. Or the time that the other woman pointed her finger at me and said, “This is sacred. You are to protect it.” That was when I knew that the call was being heard in so many of the women of this planet. What I thought was a private chat was actually a conference call.
I pause to make tea; the distractions of the other world interrupt me over and over again. All the while knowing I am to settle, to get lost in order to be found. Enter the silence of the deepest ocean and join the call. Become the silent centre of a storm.
Next to the mountain on that day was a lion. Courage, something from the heart. Bravery was required and I needed a good reason to leave this world. The task of writing today is making me grit my teeth. Those lion teeth. I bare them when I go into battle and when I am filled with the energy of the serpent. This I now know and recognise. I smile, as I remember again that these words will not come from a fight. If I fight this, if any piece of me fights this, the parts of my ego that are no longer required will get burnt off by the Ark of the Covenant. If this heart is not true, a face will peel away in the fire and brimstone, exposing blood and bone. My heart weighed with a feather full of flames. And it will be painful. But pain and I are now no stranger. I hang like a martyr on the cross in the heat of day. Tied to a stake like Indy and Marion. I know, like the Cathars of this land before me, that fire leads and is the chaplain of the gods. Fire cleanses. It cauterises the wound. What is left is worth its weight in gold. The Covenant will be kept. The Grail, intact.
We are surrounded by talk of bravery, surrender and vulnerability. To enter into sanctuary we must be brave enough to surrender to the inevitability that those parts of ourselves which no longer serve will get offered to the gods. Often when we are on our knees in the dirt, covered in snot and tears as we grieve for the things that have kept us safe and alive so far on the path. We are grateful. I learnt to honour those parts now; I give thanks and then demand that they leave me. I have no need of you now, friend and nemesis. Be gone. I have work to do. I am here to pray. Here to heal. I am here for love.
So if I just start writing, on my knees, I know something will put the words which need to be said in my fingertips. And so I begin …
Come to sanctuary, come to prayer.
Yours in love and fire.
“God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”
Juan de la Cruz
Emma Wallace is the foundation stone of Refugi in the foothills of the French Pyrenees – a modern-day abbey and artist residency.