Recently I took a long journey . . . of about a half hour. Walked up rutted tracks―a kinda-sorta back road to higher ground beyond this valley and its cozy cluster of homes. A familiar trek, a mind-free exercise meant to keep my hinges limber.
My focus was on deeper breathing. A worthy practice at 4000 feet. Eyes dead-ahead, I plodded along―around rocks and woodland debris and mini-ravines where rare storms have carved through the topsoil and torn at the roots of Manzanita.I stopped suddenly. Right at the precipice of a downhill scuttle. And could not move.
It was the light . . . poured, stirred like a tumble of visible wind—soaking into the scrap of earth around me. I looked around, seeing as if I had never seen it all before. It defied description. It beggars language now.
A small chasm lay off to the right, behind a willow. An earth-cup that spilled over with a trove of elegant floral weeds, a potpourri that simmered in the late-day sun. Behind it, an enormous boulder hunched into the light, its crust of lichen like the hide of some great, prehistoric beast.
And only a leap or two past the end of this trail I know so well, so poorly, was the dry stream bed―once a small roar and ripple that sluiced and ebbed and twined through now-hollowed banks. The trees above were crowned in a hazy glow, a swirl of insects spiraling from branch to branch. Like an alleluia. Shadows skipped and danced―a moving tangle of nature. Great, mimed symphony that trembled into silent descants my ears have never heard.
Silence was a great, radiant circle, and I was invited to rest within it. And so, I simply did. For a moment or hour, I don't know.
And then, perhaps like Genesis—on that fifth day of bird and beast―a ring-necked pigeon fluttered down upon a scraggly pine bough and iterated his single note again, again. Thrummed it into the shifting light in perfect counterpoint. The only sound in this tiny universe . . .
Back home, I have weighed it all a bit breathlessly. And in that unique way God weaves things together, I suddenly remember: This near-holy moment reminds me of one of the poems in Wendell Berry's near-holy book A Timbered Choir. An unnamed poem of unusual "depth perception”––so plain-spoken, so gut-wrenching beautifully. Words that have been tucked in my soul for just this Time. I can only quote a tantalizing scrap of it (the beginning and ending).
"I go among the trees and sit still. All my stirring becomes quiet around me like circles on water.
A door has opened that I never really knew was shut, or knew was a door. Something is shifting within. Here, upon my entering and waiting in leafy solitude, I have been led through a great unburdening, a silent and simple exorcism.
It began in Rest, in the gentle arms of nature and the God of Eden: the patchwork of my life revealed―what I have feared and the fears I have engendered in others. Here, I can shrug it away, bit by bit. The taut and tawdry that have bound me are no more my enemy. Those little foxes that spoil my vineyards begin to come out of hiding. They dare stand before me, disarmed as well.
Simply and peacefully recognized, reckoned with, released. All the inner chatter, the flailing of the soul—the why's and wherefore's are called to make peace. And leave! Silence, beautiful silence where silence once was too loud to bear.
I believe this is the beginning of understanding that the Kingdom has no end, no borders, no rules beyond the Act of Love that gets us there.
A ring-necked pigeon came into the silence to tell me this. And a man of plain-spun Truth confirms it.
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