I’ve been uneasy lately.
This time of year is always difficult for me, and I can never put my finger on why that is exactly. I think it’s a combination of nostalgia for all the days and years gone by as the kids grow so quickly, mixed with excitement for the wide-open calendar of summer and all the various activities we’ll likely fill those days with.
It’s also a time of year where, very often for me, God goes silent.
Or I get too busy to hear.
Today, I felt there was only one solution. I took a walk along Baxter’s and my favorite trails this morning for the first time since my solo memorial walk after his death. It was muggy, warm and overcast, as we are expected to get rain later today. But God has been silent around here, and so I went off looking for him in the places that I used to hear him best–nature. Immediately as my feet took to walking, I heard the call of the birds, I saw wildflowers blooming, and I thought of all the miles Bax and I covered along those trails as I huffed and puffed my way through the hills and valleys.
Before Baxter, I was never really one for the great outdoors. I was content to slide my thermostat from the warmth of 68 degrees for the winter to the refreshingly cool 72 degrees of summer. It wasn’t until I had Bax that I suddenly had a reason to be outside every single day, even if only for a moment sometimes. Because let’s face it, with a dog, getting outside is necessary. This morning, it was time to admit to myself that I’d been avoiding walks ever since his death. Without Baxter (or at least without having another dog) the walks seemed pointless somehow. And I suppose there was at least a small part of me that felt like I’d be betraying him if I walked his favorite trails without him. Still, God had fallen silent and it had reached a point that I knew I’d need to get back out into nature in order to hear him again.
It didn’t take long.
As I felt the warm breeze on my face, I was reminded of the fiery, windy, breath-filled Spirit of God of Pentecost (which we celebrated this past weekend). As I stepped into the shade under the canopy of trees on the hills, I was reminded of St. Catherine’s meditation, and I thought about my life and how the Tree of Me must look. As the sun beat down on me in the wide-open blacktop as I passed over the parking lot, I remembered that this is still the same sun– so many thousands of years later– that shined for Noah after the flood, working with the sky to make a rainbow of God’s promise that the world would never be destroyed. (This took my thoughts to animals going in two by two, of course, and I was reminded again of Bax.) I suddenly realized, though, that while I missed my walking partner terribly, I was happy to have my feet moving again. The whole process this morning seemed to be nature’s way of saying that things must change. Life is moving on, and I can either go with it, or resist it, but it’s moving on all the same.
It’s an easy decision.
I’m going with it.
And as I heard the birds calling to each other in the treetops, and watched the squirrels hurried movements up and down the trees, I remembered that while I can get caught up in my head with all kinds of to-do lists and nostalgia and plans for the future, the truth is, life is always only happening right now.
Yours and mine.
And I took a deep breath.
And I felt the silence.
And I breathed in nature’s perfume.
And I remembered I AM.
As I sat in my basement office one day struggling to string words together for the church presentation I needed to make in only a few days’ time, I became distracted by a vole.
Do you know voles? I tend to think of them as the ugly cousin of the field mouse. Or, more positively, the better looking cousin of the mole. I found a picture of one to post here for you, but to be honest, the ones we’d see in our back yard weren’t as cute as this one.
Anyway, the vole had fallen down into the window well of our basement office window.
The window next to the desk holding the computer where I sat trying to create my presentation, thank you very much.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it fall into the window well. I got up to glance at it and see if it was OK (to be honest, this was not an unusual occurrence). I saw that the vole was fine, and I made a mental note to go outside and rescue it once my presentation was more complete. But, to my surprise, the vole began clawing his way up the window screen trying to get to safety.
It was creepy and distracting all at the same time.
Well, I thought as I tried to ignore him, because, after all –PRESENTATION!– maybe I won’t even have to save him. But no. He got to the top of the screen and could not scale the expanse between himself and the grass where he needed to be.
So, fall again, he did.
(Total sidebar here, but I can’t help but think of Yoda with the way I just strung those words together…can you?)
Anyhoo, my point is, this climbing and falling went on not two or three more times, but probably half a dozen or more. And the whole time I sat there, further distracted, each time hoping he would save himself, so that I could continue with my creative process. Finally, defeated, the vole stopped trying.
And I thought, Great! Now I will finally be able to GET SOMETHING DONE in the peace and quiet.
But, I couldn’t. stop. thinking. about. that. stinkin’. vole.
So, in a huff and with a sense of complete disgust, I went upstairs, grabbed a bug net, and went out to the window well and rescued the vole. I released it out into a part of the yard where I thought he would be much more happy–near the wood pile. (And since he didn’t reappear in the window well, minutes later, I can only assume he was happier there.)
By the time I got all done with that whole exercise, what little sliver of a creative process that I’d had up to that point, was now completely lost.
I sat there staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen and had nothing to say.
As the cursor blinked away at me, my thoughts became jumbled with the laundry list of things I needed to get done in addition to my presentation. And I began sweating at the thought of it all. Come on! Come on! THINK! I’d shout internally. Give me the words, God! I’d scream inside.
But my thoughts would always go back to the vole.
WHY CAN’T I STOP THINKING ABOUT THAT VOLE?!?!!?
And then, though I’d barely realized that I’d asked a question, an answer formed in my heart with these words, It wasn’t until he stopped trying to save himself, that you rescued him.
Maybe the reason I couldn’t stop thinking about that vole, was because that experience was a lesson meant for me about trying to force the creative process, especially when I’m trying to force it for God.
I realized then and there that I can think (part of the creative process) about what I want to say while I’m doing just about anything else. And I can write down notes (also part of the creative process) as the thoughts come to me. And I can sit down and write more when the time is less forced (creative process again!).
And you know what?
It all worked out.
My presentation got done with time to spare. The house and kids didn’t suffer (too much, anyway) as a result of my neglecting ALL OTHER THINGS for the sake of the presentation.
I can’t tell you how often, still, I think of that vole. But, I definitely think of it anytime I feel that creative process being forced in me (which is often). And it’s that vole that make me think of ways I might be able to surrender myself a little more to the circumstances of my life and trust that all will still be well in the end.
Yep. That vole sure knew a thing or two.
Because, three years later, it hasn’t failed me yet.
In St. Catherine of Sienna’s Dialogues, I’ve read that she pictures the spiritual life as a large tree.
She says that the trunk of the tree is love. The core of the tree (the middle part that gives the tree its life) is patience. The roots of the tree are self-knowledge. The branches are discernment.
And I’ve wondered, if I were to paint it, what does the “tree” of my spiritual life look like? A tall and shadow-casting oak? A shimmering, quaking Aspen? A shade-filled, drooping willow?
I imagine the branches of my discernment twisting and turning –sometimes with purpose, sometimes by accident, sometimes only through careful pruning– towards the Light. I think about the bark of my tree…some of it the torn and ragged bark of the river birch, in other areas smooth and glossy like the white bark of the paper birch, and still other parts filled with the deep grooves of heartbreak that we can only know from daring to love in the first place.
I think, too, about the roots. No doubt, in quieter, darker times, my roots have grown deep and long, but after the pain of a transplant, inevitably it is with rapid adaptation that my roots skim the shallow surface and grow wide, too broken and raw from being “uprooted” to dare to “go deep” again for a while.
And with that thought I’m reminded of another element. One that is not in St. Catherine’s mediation, but that is an active part of my own. It was a thought my in-laws shared with me once after a very inspiring sermon at their church. The sermon was about the building of the artificial biosphere and how, in it, researchers were able to emulate and recreate nearly every single situation from the natural earth…with one exception.
There was a problem with the trees.
They kept falling over.
Do you know why?
As the sermon went, it was because they couldn’t properly generate enough wind to strengthen the trees.
Close your eyes and think about that for a while.
And as the trees all around us begin to bloom and grow, keep in mind that much like our own spiritual journeys, the trees would never be as tall, never as strong, and (arguably) never as beautiful …if it weren’t for the wind.
With sincere apologies, I am sorry to be so late in typing today’s post.
This has been one of those weeks where no matter how much I get done, there’s still more to do. You know what I’m talking about?
I have overcommitted myself with volunteer work. And blogging promises to myself. And exercise promises. And lunches with friends. And planning new events. And chores. And running here and there. And motherhood. And wifedom. And such.
It’s been exhausting.
But I don’t want to complain because it’s also been wonderful, all at the same time. For instance, I am working on some posts for next week already, and have successfully left Monday’s calendar slots BLANK to make sure you all don’t get ignored.
Or lost in the hustle and bustle of it all.
After all, I know I said on Wednesday that I’d show you around here on the new blog design, but now the thrill of it is gone for me. This is home. I think you can find your own way just fine. Feel free to sit back, click on things that interest you, and if you’re looking for a challenge, try to hunt out my typos and mistakes…it probably won’t take long for you to strike gold.
Speaking of gold, let me share with you a treasure I found this week.
It is one of those books that has changed my life. You know what I mean? It has in it the kind of words that veered me slightly from the course I was on, back to the course of my destiny. It asks many great and wonderful questions. It bravely shares many challenging and deeply thought-provoking sentiments. It took me to the wilderness (from which I’d just returned), and it framed it for me in a new light.
I think my favorite thought of all from it was this: “At the core of me is God.”
Think on that for the weekend.
Or for the rest of your life.
You let me know what you decide.