'Cling tightly to me,' the Holy One says

Picture of the trail during the author's snowy hike (Tracey Horan)

"Cling tightly to me," I heard the Holy One say. Or as our foundress, St. Mother Theodore Guerin, lovingly known as "Mama T," would put it, "Lean with all your weight on Providence, and you will find yourself well supported."

Lately I've been testing this theory over and over — sometimes by choice, sometimes as a result of circumstances beyond my control. I've been testing the idea that if I lean into God, if I lean into others, I'll be supported. I've struggled with finding my footing. I've battled the super-self-sufficient part of myself that says leaning is weakness.

A recent opportunity to test this theory came when I took some time in the woods of southern Indiana to focus in on my annual self-evaluation, and look intently at where I'm going, where the Spirit has been nagging and teaching me as of late.

Walking alone in the woods (much to the chagrin of my grandma) is my go-to for settling into God's presence. So, when a rare late-March snowstorm set in, I was delighted to know few others would trek out onto the trails that weekend.

My first long hike led me to a fire tower, one I had climbed numerous times over the years with family and friends. Approaching the tower I thought, "No, I don't need to climb it today."

If I'm honest, I assumed that all the ice and snow meant I would find a sign reading, "DO NOT ENTER," which would make the decision for me. When there was no such sign, only one reading, "Proceed With Caution," I had to be real about my fear of climbing the tower. I mused, "Well, I don't have a lot of time — that's a good enough excuse …"

But I knew I would regret it later if I didn't venture up to see the view of the snow-covered trees. So, I didn't pause long before cautiously making my way up the snowy steps.

I kept my head down, focusing on each step, one at a time. When I reached the platform between flights, where there was open space and a lower guardrail, my head started spinning. It felt like such a vulnerable space, so I quickly turned to tackle the next flight.

I felt safer looking down, focusing on my breathing, bracing on the railings and leaning deeply into the wooden steps. A couple of cursory glances up reminded me how far I had to go. I wanted to move quickly — to get it over with, like ripping off a Band-Aid. I kept moving as though I wasn't afraid, but my heart raced as I got higher and higher.

When I was as high as I could go, I began to take in the view for a moment. Then a sudden gust of wind picked up and my fear knocked me off my feet. Like a child, I crouched down on the step and clung for dear life to the metal rail at the center of the winding stairs.

I saw the trees around me begin to sway and waited for the rusty old tower to sway with them. "This is it," I thought, "They'll find me crushed dead under this fallen tower! Well, it's been a good life …"

As someone who has prided myself on my independence and self-sufficiency since youth, this place of utter dependence is one I avoid at all costs. My struggle with mental illness since my early 20s has brought me unwillingly to this place.

Occasional depressive episodes have looked different for me at different moments: sometimes brought on by external stressors, sometimes impacted by encroaching darkness in the fall, changing seasons or transition.

Always these episodes leave me feeling helpless — unable to control my emotions, breathing and energy level, unable to "fix" the side effects even when I recognize they are irrational.

Lately the external stressors have been heavy. Increasingly aggressive tactics of Immigration and Customs Enforcement against beloved leaders in my ministry with Faith in Indiana have pushed me to dark, emotional lows.

As leaders in our movement are told by ICE agents, "I have the power to decide whether you stay or go," or "You don't belong here — go back to your country," I am transported back to the blowing winds at the top of the fire tower.

As elected officials claim this is the best they can do, even as the children of immigrants are thrust into foster care and more and more people I know are pulled over for "driving while brown," I cling tightly to the railing and brace for the fall. This is a pain I cannot fix. This is an emotional weight that paralyzes me and sends me spiraling.

But that day at the top of the fire tower, the fall I waited for did not come. Instead the rusty old fire tower remained eerily still, even as the branches of thick, solid trees at my level flailed about. I heard the Holy One whisper in this moment, "Cling tightly to me. Then you can risk and remain safe. The view will be worth it."

Cling tightly to me … lean with all your weight on Providence …

Faith in Indiana leaders at the Families First Statewide Convention, April 21, 2018 (Tracey Horan)

As I loosened my grip and began to take in the view, I felt a little silly having so much fear about climbing the tower. But I knew something in me needed to crouch in that place of utter physical dependence, a place I've gone back to over and over as I walk with courageous leaders working to defund hate in the face of real fear.

The truth is, I was never really alone on that climb, even if I had the illusion that I was. My Sisters have steadied me along the way, like hearty metal railings. I stand on the sturdy courage and companionship of colleagues and leaders in this work for racial justice.

And at the center of it all, the Holy One has always been there for me to cling to when I am ready. This wasn't the first climb, and it certainly won't be the last. I can be sure the winds will continue to blow. Just as surely, though, there is a sturdiness available to me, inviting the weight and whispering, "My yoke is easy, my burden light." As I lean in and loosen my grip, I trust the view will be worth it.

Author's note: I shared a piece of my mental health story today in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more here.

[Tracey Horan is a member of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Her first deep conversation with this community occurred in a melon patch during her time as an intern at the Sisters' White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. She is a community organizer with Faith in Indiana (formerly IndyCAN).]