Dripping with heat, air
speared by riotous redheads
Bow caresses string
Robin’s sweet chuckle beckons
The timbered choir sings
Grey-speckled granite cleared
to cradle water
Hot white daisy discs
Freshly starched linen doilies
dazzle and delight!
GET LOST … and FIND YOUR WAY TO GOD
The day was gorgeous. A lapis blue sky looked down on hunter green trees cradling pure white snow. A late winter storm had draped 2 feet of fresh snow as far as the eye could see. It was a winter “wonder” land. With only a week until the spring equinox, this was probably the very last big snowfall of winter in Maine.
As was my practice for the past 3 months, I strapped on my snowshoes and went outside with my dog, Wellington. A standard Poodle/Airedale mix, Welly is 75 pounds of energetic joy, especially outside in winter. Off we went to make fresh trails on our 20-acre woodlot.
Our property is surrounded on three sides by several hundred acres of mixed forest, cut through with narrow cart trails reclaimed by raspberry thickets. Tired rock walls and a few tree blazes give some indication of property boundaries.
Today, under the spell of a beauteous day, Wellington and I stepped beyond the boundaries of our well-known wood into the forest primeval. There were no tracks to be seen—even the deer and turkeys had remained within the sheltering arms of conifers. My senses alert, I tried to take in all that I saw, smelled, heard, and felt. I pushed my way through thickets, scrambled up snowdrifts, marveled at the deep silence evoked beneath evergreen eves.
I walked until quite literally, I was lost in space and time. Oh, I knew I could turn around and follow my prints back home, but it was the journey into the unknown that called to me. And as I followed that call, I thought about God, the spiritual journey, and retreat. Wasn’t this excursion like the spiritual journey? God nudges us to push out beyond the comfortable quadrants in which most of us live our lives. God invites us to risk pushing into the unknown in order to know ourselves—and trust God’s providence—better.
The Old and New Testaments are replete with stories of individuals who travel into the unknown, become disoriented, and wrestle with the tension of turning back or pressing onward. Unsure of what lies ahead, they may rely only on the covenant promise that God walks with them, wherever the journey leads. And let’s be clear: the journey doesn’t always end easily, yet God is steadfast.
Why is this theme so common in the Bible? Because it is the never-ending story of faith. God invites and challenges us to grow our faith by stepping beyond the comforts of convention. How do we do that? Ironically, one way to move forward in faith is to retreat. Retreat is a time-honored pathway of spiritual formation. The very act of setting aside significant time to be with God recalibrates our inner compass toward its ultimate destination: God’s Kingdom, here on earth.
Retreat offers a rich opportunity to explore new pathways to the Holy Spirit, risking new insights and deeper relationships with God, oneself, others, and the world. Like stepping beyond the boundaries of the well-known wood we are never sure what will surface on retreat, only that God is ever present. Perhaps this is why Jesus said to gain the kingdom one must lose one’s life. Retreat gives us a way to “get lost” to the numbing routine of the material world and to recommit in mind, body, and spirit to find—and follow—a fresh path to God.
In The Unforeseen Wilderness, Wendell Berry says, “…the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.”
Retreat offers us the gift of getting lost with God, and feeling the freshening wind of the Holy Spirit guide us home. That’s what happened to me. Unsure of my whereabouts, watching the sun sink in the western sky, wondering if I should turn around, I pressed on, and pushed through to a familiar blaze that brought me safely home. I pray that you will be blessed likewise whenever you get lost with God.
March 13, 2014
AN OWL OUTING
At 4:25 on an early April Sunday morning the temperature was a chilly 24o, stars littered the floor of the sky, and the air was as still as stone granite. I know this because my husband and I were returning from four hours of owling in central Maine.
As part of the Maine Owl Monitoring Project, a citizen science initiative, we travel a 10-stop route in central Maine in early spring, listening for owls. The joy and challenge of this activity is that it begins at midnight, and ends by 4 AM. While it is an effort to stay up that late—and early, the chance to be out in nature for the better part of four hours when most others are asleep nudges me to climb into long underwear, snow pants, woolies, and winter jacket every April. And I am never disappointed.
Sometimes, in pitch black, the yodel of loons cuts the silence. When temperatures reach a balmy 33o, spring peepers call in the season. Once we were blessed with the distant sound of migrating birds. Unable to see them, we knew they were winging their way to a nesting place up north. Sometimes, but not always, we hear owls as we stand still in the woods. And this time out, we hit an owling jackpot—a chorus of three Barred Owls and one Great Horned Owl regaled us for five minutes as we stood like sentinels of stillness.
It’s especially at these times outdoors in Maine, that I feel a deep kinship with the earth. My soul swells with awe and gratitude to be part of an ecological system that is so elegant in its design and function. For me, time in the northern woods has spiritual meaning. It’s a chance to experience those “thin places” as the Celts call it—to befriend the unknown and revel in the mystery of nature.
When my children were growing up in central Maine, I shared my thoughts about the opportunities and obligations, and rights and responsibilities that we each have to people and the earth. I still believe these words. As residents of the rural north, it is our privilege and responsibility to protect the integrity of its natural resources. If you have any doubts, I encourage you to spend a couple of hours outside as a new day is borne this spring. I promise you will be renewed by the natural wonders of the northern woods.
From the 2013 MOMP season