We were whizzing past high hedges which lined the backroads of Ireland, luscious with its many variations of green and stone-colored landscapes. I drove my dad at break-neck speed on “the wrong side” of the tiny roads, just wide enough for two cars to pass. Sometimes a giant tour bus would suddenly appear around a corner and at high-speed we slid over to our side just enough to avoid a collision. We had a pedal-to-the-metal adventure across the unknown country even though we had nowhere to be, no schedule, no reason to rush.
My crazy driving wasn’t about hurry. It was about being alive, in the moment, thrilled to be exploring a completely new world with no agenda. In a strange way I was feeling one with the little car I drove, as I guided it through each turn and twist of the road. And since I had no idea where the road would take us next, every moment was an unexpected wonder.
Normally, the way I live my life is trying to remember to slow down and pay attention to my surroundings. I usually think of this as a contemplative way of being. And I generally invite others to try to slow their speed down to a pace where they can be. So it is hard to explain why a father and son trip for a week of walking across the rugged paths and through the ancient monasteries of Ireland would also turn me into a speed demon when I was driving.
I think what happened is this: daily life in the same places and activities can become a rut, and being in a totally new setting brings our senses alive. For once, I didn’t want to carefully inch my way across an unfamiliar realm. The sensuality of the new world called me to fully experience the twists and turns, the highs and lows, the curves and straightaways of that winding road. My body wanted to feel it all in a way that creeping along couldn’t provide. Something in me needed a fully visceral experience of the landscape.
Thankfully, my dad just held on and never once said what any sane father would say, “Son, do you think you could slow down just a little?” I am also grateful he didn’t have a heart attack, since plenty of those hidden curves brought us face to face with cars coming right at us. For once, I didn’t want to just see pretty sights in my usual contemplative fashion. I wanted to feel it all, to have a full-body experience.
I believe the gate of heaven is everywhere, and can be experienced in a million ways. But each of them require us to be awake, senses alive, mind and heart and body and soul all open to the experience. I’m not saying you should race across your city streets like I did the backroads of Ireland. (Lord knows you would break your wheel axle if you tried that across the pot-hole mountains of New Orleans). But I am saying we can be fully embodied beings who can experience the gates of heaven with all of our senses wide open. And maybe we occasionally need a little pedal-to-the-metal to wake up and be fully alive. Then, if our moments are blessed, we might actually discover in personal experience how the gate of heaven is really everywhere, including the high-speed backroads of Ireland.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, and watch for the next book, The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere.