~ Magical Mystery ~
As I write this I am sitting on the flood plain of a creek that's too
small to be called a river but seems too large to be called a creek.
Every single thing here is magical. I am surrounded by awesome mystery.
Actually, our bodies and spirits are awesome mysteries, so I fit right
in as both visitor and resident. "You alone created my inner being. You
knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because
I have been amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous,
and my soul is fully aware of this. My bones were not hidden from you
when I was being made in secret, when I was being skillfully woven in
an underground workshop. Your eyes saw me when I was only a fetus.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book, before one of them had
taken place" (Psalm 139:13-16). That includes this one.
Like the ocean surf, but unlike the dead, chemically treated trapped
water in a swimming pool like a tranquilized wild animal trapped in a
cage, the creek water is alive and noisy. Though I look at the same
creek, every second I am gazing at different water in constant renewal.
Two weeks ago this soft, gentle, caressing creek water ravaged the
countryside. Ravaged is not a choice word for what it did. Floods
ravage and create disasters only when people's homes and businesses are
along the waterway. Not a disaster, I see the results of an awesome
flood that renewed the valley. I contemplate the remnants of its power.
Soft, gentle water, empowered by increased volume and current, lifted
huge logs up into the trees and pushed boulders impressive distances,
rearranging the forest floor. Most of the logs and broken tree limbs
have fallen to the ground and will soon decompose into new soil.
Fragile, pliable plants have already carpeted the forest floor in
greater abundance and density than I witnessed on previous visits here.
Ants nearby my feet have already made a half-foot high pile of tiny
gravel, bringing each one of those tiny grains (boulders to the ants)
individually from out of their tunnels. Where were these ants during
the flooding and how did they survive?
All things here in the wilderness reflect spiritual realities that go
unseen by the physical eyes. The earth was given a cleansing baptism of
renewal. (Recall how the ancient Egyptians counted on the annual
flooding of the Nile to renew their farmland.) Christ told us to be
baptized by water and the Spirit. This gushing water was empowered by
the rainy storm winds and created its own wind. That gurgling sound I
hear is the dance between water and air. Christ compared the Spirit to
wind, to breath.
I encountered three snake skins and one water snake here. Unlike the
ants, snakes could have ventured up to higher ground during the flood
and returned. Nonetheless, they are back, leaving their sheds as
spiritual reflections. As snakes grow, their old skins become too tight
and must be discarded. That's what baptism and sanctification is about,
squirming out of and leaving behind what no longer serves us, what
deters us from growing. During this process, snakes are stuck in one
place, concentrating on one task. They are a spiritual reminder of how
we need to retreat into one place to not eat, not work, not talk, not
accomplish anything except renewal through prayer.
The trees are clothed with zillions of leaves, all extended flat,
soaking in the nourishing sunlight. No matter the kind of tree, all the
leaves are smaller than my hand. If it was a human, a tree just might
think, "Instead of a few thousand small leaves, I'm going to grow a
hundred or less really large ones. The bigger the better and my
neighbors would have no chance of competing with me for sunlight since
I'll gather more in while shading them out. I'll be the envy of the
forest." But should a branch of that tree be torn away by wind or
water, unlike its neighbors, that tree's energy-gathering ability will
diminish greatly while a neighboring tree would not miss one of its
branches of leaves.
Bigger is not better in the spiritual realm either. Bigger church
congregations, greater acts of service, bigger responsibilities,
greater knowledge and influence, are not necessarily blessings or
fruits of the Spirit. Recall the praise the humble and contrite man in
the back shadows of the temple beating his breast, "Be merciful to me,
a sinner," received from Jesus. The Christ remarked, "The least in the
kingdom of heaven shall be called the greatest."
Here, in this wilderness, almost everything is perfect, except me. Yes,
on these "retreats" we have our scriptures and books we like to bring.
There are times, however, when it is vital to retreat into God's
creation and learn from Him there by silently watching what He has done
and is doing. Christ's favorite places of retreat was not the temple or
a cave, but the gardens, desert and wilderness. The Native Americans
called these retreats "Vision Quests." By "vision" they did not mean
some visual revelation or hallucination, but rather a realization of
Spirit and holy wisdom. Christ did His equivalent of a forty-day vision
quest in the desert with no food and little sleep, eventually visited
by the devil himself and later consoled by powerful angelic spirits.
Only after that did He venture back into the world to choose His
apostles and begin His ministry.
Our Scriptures also declare how those without written Scriptures have
"no excuse" for not knowing God, "for all creation declares His
Presence." Decide to spend a day alone, without eating or even talking
to yourself, in the wilderness. Sit still in one place and don't
explore. If you get bored after an hour or two, you probably aren't
seeing the unseen, which is always magnificently exciting. That's ok
for now. Retreat back into your world, but come back again to the
wilderness retreat touching-place of silence and stillness. Do it for a
half-hour at a time, and soon your half-hours will turn into hours and
some day the creation of our God will call you to stay for a day or
two, perhaps a week or a month. Eventually that will be your homeland,
the spiritual reflection of earthly creation, and when you go back into
the world of technology and commerce, you will feel like a visitor,
rather than the reverse. That is the essence of spirituality. Our
Scriptures declare we are but passing pilgrims on this earth on our way
to the heavenly abode, our eternal home. To experience a little of what
that means, retreat to wilderness for as long as you are able. Then go
back again and again, being increasingly nourished by the experience of
the Presence of God in all things. If you are confined to a place that
makes such retreats impossible, such as a prison or nursing home,
retreat into the wilderness of your soul. Those of you in such places,
more than the rest of us, know and treasure the mundane that we "free"
people like to kill, such as the beauty of a spider, mouse, ant,
caterpillar, weed or even a roach. Magical life! Like you, let us all
see God's reflection in all His creation, from the insects and weeds to
each other. Then we sleep in spiritual peace.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
in the Christian Faith ~
Spiritual Resource Services © August 10, 2006
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