On Sunday I went to the Church of the Woods in Canterbury, New Hampshire, my church home when I’m away from home and a place I’ve grown to love gathering with the small group in a little circle of stumps on a small hill or as we did this Sunday in a small barn with a wood stove. We hear a few ancient texts, ponder a question for the day and set off for twenty minutes of wandering in the woods alone and in silence to see what we might discover.
Today the question is redemption. It’s too weighty of a word and I often forget just what it means. All I know is that I’d like to get a breath, deep and well. To receive all that “redemption” suggests, where grace, forgiveness, freedom, release meets and returns us to a deep breath and wholeness from all that keeps us separated from each other, ourselves, from all we call God.
As I walk through brown crunching leaves covered with a dusting of snow I’m far from redeemed. I crunch through a familiar coldly interior and locked-away place it’s so easy for me to get lost in. Bare limbed branches, ice nodules on gray limbs, I feel the weight of this late November day, the cold of separation, of all I need met with grace and forgiveness, saving and love that feels impossible on this gray day to be found anywhere. A few brown leaves withered and torn still holding on, not yet ready to fall.
Here I am at it again, spinning out a tired ancient tale of woe and dislocation while walking in a wood that shouts out LOOK! See how cold and gray the season is, see the way of seasons and turning. See how connected it all is, we all are.
But I see nothing of that only a green marker off to the left, a path I’d not taken before. I look ahead down the trail seeking some sign of beauty and life and see only more gray limbs, snow on fir. Nothing looks hopeful or of life today. Unsure where I will be in a few months, unsure if I’m actually on the right path and if I’ll make it back in time on this unfamiliar trail, I spot a blue jacket on the path ahead of me trekking slowly, steadily along. I see its Joan and knowing she’s been here many times before, figure she must know where she’s going. I relax in trust following down the trail behind her. Later she tells me she didn’t have a clue where she was going. But none of that mattered. She was following Trust, and in trust I followed her.
She pauses ahead and I do as well. The knocking of a downy woodpecker up the tree ahead. After a moment, she steps out again, I follow. I can’t tell you when It happened but somewhere between my crunching along my cold interior trail and looking ahead into the bleak woods, I breathed. Breathed from a deeper place deep within and with the filling of air and the taking in received a releasing, an emptying of all the familiar old stuff I’d too heavily carried. Just like that, I’m light again. I’m breathing again. I’m here in the gray woods and everything is different. Hope and joy, breath and light, here.
It always sounds absurd to talk of moments like this and probably why we often don’t. All I know is it made all the difference and the finding of it now a memory to return to, as I remember now in the taking in of this deep breath, this lowering of my shoulders, this gift of presence, connection, release and new life, here.
Last month Nimblewill Nomad at 83 became the oldest person to complete the Appalachian Trail. Walking the trail, he said, forced him to come face to face with himself. Along the way he not only faced himself, but found redemption as well. Nimblewill did his first major hike to deal with the emotional and mental baggage of a divorce and losing the respect of his children. Crunching through leaves, scrambling up sharp rocks, plodding by long weary days on the trail, he eventually found peace and forgiveness.
“You can seek peace but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to find it.” he said. “I persevered to the point that the good Lord looked down on me and said you’re forgiven, you can be at peace.”
Perhaps its not so much a longing I have for the Lord to look down and grant a turning word. No, perhaps its just to keep on walking until I spot the blue jacket ahead of me down the trail. And in seeing, trusting, that She’s leading the way through the cold gray forest on a path which in its time will take us home.