Monday, February 20, 2006

The One That Nearly Got Away

I keyed in this passage--with explanation--over a week ago, then promptly lost the whole thing switching from entry view to draft view and back. I've been in a snit about the blogger interface since then, and have boycotted the joint. I guess I showed them, didn't I? Yeah. I'm feeling much better now.

While I was on a men's retreat recently, the group was given free time at the end of the first evening. I spent that time with a friend smoking pipes and catching up. We used to spend more time together, but life had intervened and we'd both been too busy to connect. The free time presented an opportunity too good to disregard.

The retreat center occupies the peak of a hill generously called South Mountain. I know. It probably ain't. There are undoubtedly higher prominences further south than the mid-Atlantic region. There are certainly mountains worthy of the title elsewhere. But if you're standing at the base and craning your neck to see the top or if you're either pulling or pushing something heavy--say, perhaps a wagon carrying your worldly goods hitched to an obstinate, long-eared animal that refuses to climb but is content to switch its tail at gnats and horseflies while you sweat and swear--it could certainly seem to be a mountain. All that is supposition, of course. I'm just saying I wasn't there when it was named and I'm willing to dispense grace to whoever was. The point I want to establish is that I was at the top looking down.

This retreat took place in February. It was a cold, clear night. Looking out over the valley, we could see a grid of lights from the town below. The ordered pattern gradually dispersed as the lit streets gave way to winding roads and the occasional farmstead. While we may have been distant, we clearly were not alone.

The next day, we were again given free time, with the stipulation that we spend it alone with God. My hardier friends communed amid the elements. I, being older, frailer, and perhaps wiser, took shelter in my truck, the scene of the previous evening's reunion. Here is what I wrote:

The lights of last night are extinguished. There is little confirmation of life beyond this place. A veil of snow flurries makes the valley below indistinct. All that is before me is an open field, a fringe of trees denuded of foliage for the winter, a small house, and the hint of what lies beyond. Lord, that works for me.

I have the open field--those things that are so close that I can say with certainty they exist: family, friends, community, my workplace.

I have the fringe of trees that defines the borders of my reality. I have doubts and fears. They are colored by my persistent optimism that fresh growth will soon transform a bleak, spare border into a lush, beautiful boundary teeming with life. But I am curious about the future, about aging, relationships, health, personal growth, and about the futures of those whom I hold dear.

The small house is a comfortable, cozy sanctuary. A place of warmth and security. A place where I entertain friends and invite them to come in for shelter, care, and community. It is my church.

That only leaves the beyond, doesn't it Lord? That vista that alternately seems so clear, then so hazy. What can you tell me about that? How much of it could I even grasp?

Ephesians 4:10 mentions your ascension to fill the universe with yourself. That's a comfort. When I travel beyond the immediate, you're already there. If you hold this place where I am in your hand, as I believe you do, that place is in your grip as well. What is the view like from there? In this analogy, I'm looking into a valley. But are the hills beyond that my destination? Is the town that lies below us just a stop on the journey you have planned?

It's all exciting, but maybe I shouldn't be setting the itinerary here. You are a much more competent guide. My friend Terry says she has the spiritual gift of showing up. It that what you want? I'll show up and I'll try to be prepared for what you have in store. I'll trust you to remind me what to bring and to supply what I forget or what I couldn't procure. But I'll show up. I'll be there.


At February 20, 2006 7:14 AM , Blogger terryb said...

So rich and lovely and heartening...thank you for sharing it.



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