Going to Church
I went to church last week for the first time in a long time. The cathedral was built with tall pines which brushed heaven’s floor. The pews were fallen logs, covered with velvety moss. The baptismal font was continually refilled by a roaring waterfall.
I grew up Catholic, and while I am no longer a follower of the church, I am grateful to its teachings and the nuns who shared the Catechism. I am grateful to have had my formative years shaped by readings in the New Testament.
After almost 40 years, I sometimes miss the smell of the church, the quietness, the scent of burning candles, the soaring stained glass windows, the beautiful statuary, the rituals and recitation of prayers with strangers and friends.
However, these days when I want to feel connected to an energy greater than my own I find my spiritual solace outside church walls. Last week, Alan and I made a pilgrimage to Yellowstone National Park.
Along the way we trekked to the top of Medicine Mountain (WY) to an active ceremonial site for area Native Americans. On our way up we passed some Native families going down the mountain. A medicine wheel is situated almost 10,000 feet up. We passed enough snow that I was able to hurl a snowball at Alan. My lungs worked to push air in and out, and we stopped several times to “catch our breath.” We arrived at the medicine wheel, a structure that is a circle of stones, 80-feet in diameter, with 28 “spokes.” Small medicine bundles were left behind, eagle feathers, ribbons tied here and there along the low, wooden fence that protects the site. The Medicine Wheel is considered a sacred place of healing and health. As one enters the area of the Medicine Wheel, there is a flagstone off to the right that holds a fossil of coral. Coral from the sea. Coral from when the top of Medicine Wheel Mountain was on the bottom of the sea. There's no elegant way to phrase it: That blows my mind.
And when a man -- a white man -- joined us with his family and said, "I walked all the way up here to see this?" I had to say something. It was what we call in education "the teachable moment." I pointed out that it was a living site. Tribes come 25-35 times a year for ceremonies. I pointed out the coral. I don't think it made a difference, but I think his family heard and saw. So, I gently told him he was an idiot and he should come back in his next life and look again. (Kidding!) "Judge not, lest ye be judged" (Matthew 7:1-3). Okay, so maybe God speaks in different languages in order to reach people in the way they are most able to hear. (Or -- maybe he was just an idiot.) * * *
No, I don’t go to a human-made church anymore, but when I need to tap into Spirit -- alright, I'll use the word "God" -- I spend time in nature. God speaks so clearly in a forest, or beside a lake or river. God spoke on that mountain top. God kept pointing out that all life is temporary. That the existence of all living things is finite, even the mountain which is continually eroding. The passing of life makes room for new life. It is simply the way.
Besides huckleberry jam and knick-knacks, I brought home valuable lessons that don't fit in any suitcase. We fled our home to forget about the pandemic for a week, but the pandemic was always on our mind, and Nature offered some wisdom:
Even stinky things can be beautiful.
While conditions may not be ideal, you can still grow. (Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!)
We can coexist with that which is wild, with respect and boundaries.
Things are bubbling beneath us, churning deep in the earth. Just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not at work.
Even though you can't move the boulder, if you go around it you'll eventually get to where you need to be.
God spoke in the most eloquent way to me last week. S/he spoke in bird song, s/he wrote in the spider’s silk, s/he spoke through the Grizzly cub foraging along the road. God is a poet. She speaks in metaphor. She speaks through the senses. Since we, too, are nature, we are fluent in God-speak. What does it sound like? Is it the whisper of a real smile from a stranger? Is it song or dance? A painting? A quilt made with love? Perhaps a hand reaching out, reaching down, reaching up? Laughter? Tears for
another's pain? All of the above? I'm pretty sure that screaming is not God-speak. Hate is not God-speak. Violence towards another is certainly not God-speak.
Do you wish to hear God speak? It’s really quite simple. Sit. Listen. Breathe. Some would call this praying and they take the traditional route -- in a church, a temple, a mosque. Some hear God in the wind rustling through the leaves, or by driving out to the prairie to hear the song of the tall grass. Some hear God in the crash of the waves on the beach. Let His words wash over you as you dive beneath the surface of a lake. Let Her language lift you up. Writing Challenge: Where and when do you hear God-speak loudest?
In memory of Brian Myer. While nature teaches us all life is temporary, it doesn't make it easier to say good-bye.