Experiences in the woods


As I walked along the dirt road deep in thought, I paid little attention to the woods on either side of me or the predawn light beginning to fill the sky.   Just as I reached where the road curved and dropped downhill to the trail head, I glanced up.  The trees on my right had given way to a wide, open field and in the distance stood a group of large black mounds.  I had never noticed these minature mountains before, but suddenly I couldn’t take my eyes off them.   Against the dark backdrop of pine, they glowed with a brilliant light that made them appear ethereal.  I stood rooted to my spot, awed by the magnificent spectacle.   

Though a little scared, I decided to investigate and turned onto a path which went down and around a small hill that led in the direction of the scene.   As I walked, I wondered with anticipation what mystical revelation awaited me.  I was in for quite a surprise.  As I rounded the curve and the mounds came into view, my mouth dropped open.  Before me I saw pile after huge pile of trash!  Actually, they were decomposing biodegradable bags filled with greenery, and the light I had seen was the reflection of the rising sun on the tattered remnants flapping in the breeze.  Was this the essence of my mystical vision - a garbage dump?  I was reminded of the popular song that had asked, “Is that all there is?”. 

It’s funny how my experience diminishes when I rationalize and slap labels on it – like “Oh, it’s just a garbage dump.”  Life suddenly losses it’s magic and I wonder why.   Why am I so quick to reduce my experience to a safe formulaic equation, rather than embrace the enthralling possibility that God is present everywhere in everything and is at all times seeking communion with me.  Do I doubt God’s desire, or is it my own fear of appearing foolish or of being disappointed?   Where would the human race be if the masters and the mystics had told themselves that their visions and dreams were “nothing more than...”   It seems that having the “eyes to see and ears to hear” involves a personal choice of faith, a willingness to perceive that which cannot be measured.

Unwilling to explain away my mystical vision as a simple mistaken visual perception, I decided to look within and listen for that “still, small voice”.  The message that came to me then was an image of a poster I had seen in a sunday school classroom.  It said, “God don’t make no junk!”.  I realized that long ago I had decided that mounds of trash were, without exception, ugly and despicable.  Suddenly I had been gifted with new sight and had witnessed mounds of trash transformed by light into a thing of  awesome beauty.  I realized then that all things are made beautiful in the light of God and that, when looked at through the eyes of love, life in all it’s various forms is an amazing and incredibly magical gift.

Again I turned within and reflected on some of the “garbage dumps” in my life which I had judged to be unworthy.  The painful situations which had taught me empathy, the hard choices that had showed me how to trust my intuition, the frustrations that had given birth to patience, and the problematic people who had challenged me to be the forgiving and compassionate person I had longed to be.  I realized that because of those “garbage dumps” I had stretched myself to become more like the person I wanted to be and, as a result, experienced more peace and love and joy in my life than ever before!  These were gifts, not curses!

Then I thought of all the times that I had, in one way or the other, told myself I was junk.  You’re not good enough!  You’re not worthy!  You’re hopeless!  You’ll never amount to anything!  You have nothing of value to offer!   What misguided and destructive messages these are - a garbage dump of the worst kind!  Such beliefs come from living too closely to the world, from interpreting what is good, worthy and of value from the world’s perspective.  This nearsighted view prevents me from seeing the bigger picture, the sacred perspective.  When I look through the eyes of God, through the eyes of Love, I can see that God don’t make no junk... 

I mock God and God’s ability to create perfectly when I think of myself or any other as anything less than Holy.  Not only that, it is very unproductive.  The smaller I believe myself to be, the smaller I feel and, as a result, the smaller become my actions.  Where can this take me if my task is to bring about “earth as it is in heaven” for myself and for the world?  I may say that I am made in the image of God, a co-creator with the Divine, and an inheritor of the Kingdom, but imagine if I really believed it in my heart and lived it every moment of my life.  “What a wonderful world it would be!” 

To See Thee More Dearly...

While walking in the Mastihito trails, I always sang a little song that helped to bring me out of my thoughts and into the present moment.  The song was “Day by Day” from the musical Godspell except that I had changed the words to focus attention on the experience of my five senses.  My intention was to get out of my head and into my body so that through my bodily senses I might experience God more intimately in the world.  Therefore, instead of singing, “to see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly day by day,”  I would sing, “to see Thee more clearly, to see Thee more dearly, and to see Thee more nearly day by day.”  Then I would sing it over and over again replacing the word “see” with “hear,” then “smell,” then “taste,” and finally “touch,” and with each verse I would concentrate on using that sense to perceive God more deeply in my experience of the world.

During one walk, however, I was feeling agitated and disconnected from God. I had been talking and talking to God, but not listening…  Finally I stopped on the path in frustration and looked up into the trees and angrily bellowed, “Are you conscious of me God, right now, right here in these woods?”   When I didn’t get a response (what was I expecting anyway?), I started walking again.  However, I had only gone a few feet when I heard noises off to my right.  I looked and there was a young deer cautiously approaching me.  It stopped about 15 or 20 feet from me and simply looked into my eyes for about 10 minutes.  Finally it turned and quietly moved back into the woods.  I had been very touched by the experience and paused to ask God, “What was that all about?”  Immediately, in response to my question, a phrase from the song, “Day by Day,” which I mentioned earlier, popped into my head. The musical answer to my question was,  “To see thee more DEERly!”

Come near to God and he will come near to you.   James 4:8
...the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you. 1 Chronicles 28:9

A Butterfly Encounter

One early summer morning, while walking on the Mastihito trails seeking communion with God, I came across a monarch butterfly in the middle of my path. Surprised that it didn't fly away, I got down on my elbows and knees and watched as it walked across the dirt and climbed blades of grass. Its wings were a bit tattered so I assumed that was why it didn't fly away. Finally I decided to go on, but as I got up I wondered if it would get on my finger. So I put my finger next to the butterfly and, to my surprise, it climbed on!  Slowly I stood up and began walking and, as I walked, I talked to the butterfly.

I told it how I had never had a monarch butterfly perched on my finger before and that the experience felt magical.  I explained that because nothing like this had ever happened to me before, I wondered if God was reminding me of his presence in all things and that she sought communion with me at all times. Not wanting the butterfly to think me foolish (hmmm…), I quickly added that I knew it was only my imagination and that the only reason it had stayed on my finger was that its wings were tattered and it couldn't fly. With that, the butterfly spread its wings and rose into the air and flew all about me! 

Amazed, I stood there and watched until it landed on a bush beside me. By then I realized I had been mistaken and that it could fly with tattered wings. So I announced out loud (for anyone that might be listening…) that I guessed the real reason it had not flown earlier was because its wings had been wet with dew and needed time to dry.  I added that what had happened was all just a coincidence and that now that its wings were dry, it certainly wouldn’t get on my finger again.  Then to prove my point I went up to the bush and stuck my finger out - and, to my surprise, it climbed back on!  

Not knowing what to say, I just continued walking in silence, staring at my tiny friend.  As I got closer to my car, however, I excitedly began telling it how I was going to take it home and show it to everyone and then get some butterfly food to give it and then...  and then it spread its beautiful orange and black wings and flew, up, up and away, above the treetops and beyond. I guess it had other plans...  I just stood there in awe, watching - and I wondered if, perhaps, God was smiling…

Father/Mother God, too often we have encountered you in some special way, but we quickly deny it.  We tell ourselves it was only our imagination, that we are not worthy of your interest.  

But like the shepherd seeking the one lost sheep, you care about each of us individually, and like the father who embraces his prodigal son, you reach out and touch us in any way that might help us to feel your love and know the joy you experience when we respond. Help us God find the courage within to risk accepting your gifts with joy and gratitude!  In Christ’s spirit we pray.  Amen.

This morning I came across an old journey entry written in 2004 that reflects my experience of coming down the mountain of "ecstatic experiences and bliss" into everyday life.  Of course, I loved the mountain top experiences, but I needed to come down, integrate them and live them in the world.  I had soooo much to learn (still do!)!  As the experiences receded, I felt abandoned, as if I did something wrong and was being rejected (which shows how much I did not understand!).  I felt hurt, angry and confused...

Frustration on the Journey

Like a tightly closed Daisy bud, my spirit feels trapped - suffocated by the incessant word games in my mind.  Forever analyzing and defining, my thoughts distance me from heart felt experience and understanding.  Why do I trust the compulsively constructed word buildings in my head over the effortless and natural flow of joining?  I can hear the delicate flower petals buried deep within me crying out,  “Come sun and warm me, burn away all resistance and open me so that I might receive your glory!”  

Oh great tripper of locks, greaser of hinges rusted shut, free me!  Come, Holy Spirit, come, and break down the barriers of my self imposed prison.  Lead me into the unbounded playground that You created for knowing You!  I long for Your joy and tire of watching from a distance, safe within my puny definitions.  Melt the plated windows of my small experience where I gaze out to see the wind blow, but never feel its caress.  

Please wake me - right here, right now, in this spot, among these lovely earth forms that are You and I.  Dissolve the tenacles of doubt and distrust that keep me enslaved to rigid rules born of a fearful mind - and free me!  Teach my senses, once again, to become paths of holy communion with You - that I might remember who I am and sing my soul song once again...            

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