While away last week at Orcas Island on a retreat with other church leaders, we were given a contemplative exercise based on the teaching of Mama Maggie, founder of Stephen’s Children in Cairo Egypt.
The exercise goes like this:
“Silence your body and listen to your words.
Silence your words and listen to your thoughts.
Silence your thoughts and listen to your heart.
Silence your mind and listen to your spirit.
Silence your spirit and listen to the Spirit of God.”
We were told to take an hour, find a place to engage with these words, and then do it.
The land behind the home where we were staying is native Puget Sound second growth forest. Precisely the environment I feel most at home in, most “en-placed”…it’s my native habitat. So I wandered straight out into the soaking wet Cedar boughs, enjoying the luxuriantly soft and mossy forest floor under my feet. In relatively short order, my body was silenced. I felt myself blend into the place and into the moment.
Then this sight emerged from the undergrowth:
With my body now still, my mind was able to take in the artistry, the contrasts, the gentle way in which the forest was not trying to vomit out the old truck, but slowly digesting it.
“All things are passing…”, I thought. The logging/farming/fishing culture from which I was born, but only barley knew, is gone. My thoughts turned to my father, my grandfather and my great grandfather who traveled forests like this, and as I continued to push through Elder Berry and Devil’s Club, I came upon this:
I felt my mind go quiet, and my heart began to speak – to sing really – a dirge. Grief overtook me as I wondered about the two who had sat here; the things that took place in this spot now perhaps forgotten or corrupted by time. My heart felt the loss of my father and those before him. I felt the loss of a way of life and felt the absurdity of hanging on to memories, of my impulse to inflate my own story, to “make more of things” than they should be. And so I wandered through the forest, letting my heart have it’s say for 20 minutes or so when, as I emerged into a pasture, this caught my eye:
Before I knew it, I was on my knees in the wet grass taking this picture. I caught myself smiling for no good reason. I took in the relative expanse of this tiny fungus forest. As I knelt there in the chilly air, Whimsy sneaked up from behind, playfully slapped my ass and went running away laughing, dragging my heart and the grief with it. I found my spirit speaking now…and it was simply giggling in delight. My perspective had shifted. As I began walking again, my spirit took in the sights around me and it “delighted” in all of it:
I lost myself for some time in the simple act of living when and where I was; “permitting” my spirit to delight in the act. I let it have it’s way. I had silenced my body, silenced my mind, and silenced my heart – not by violence, not by gagging them – but by letting each one, in turn, have their say…
…And then I “heard” it.
That familiar voice of THE Other. The Mysterium Tremendum. The One, Holy and Eternal God. The Lover of my soul and Great Architect of all that is: