Nature’s Way

I started reading a book entitled Lassoing the Sun while here in Acadia.  The author, Mark Woods, spent a year traveling to twelve different national parks.  Ironically, the very first chapter, January, takes place here in Maine at Acadia National Park.  One of the points of the year was to get a different glimpse into the parks and where they’re going into the future.  People are, of course, the greatest asset to the parks, but the concern is that the greatest asset is also becoming a great obstacle, as more and more treat the parks as vacation destinations rather than the place of wonder and exploration in which they were created.

I couldn’t help but think of that as I was hiking Beech Mountain today.  There seemed to be a lot more people than the last time I had visited.  As I hiked along, from time to time I also just sat and tried to take in what was before me.  With stops, though, came the passing through of people, who often felt like a distraction to the solitude that would often accompany each stop along the way.  I often wondered if they had even recognized that I was sitting there, usually off to the side or at least somewhat off the path.  I heard two women who were discussing whether their hair color was natural.  I heard two gentlemen discussing their tax brackets.  What maybe most struck me, though, was a young family that came traipsing along.  I saw, first-hand, the intersection of generations in relation to the natural world.

There they were, the grandparents and grandkids going off to pick blueberries.  The kids were beyond excited at the view and the enormous number of berries that surrounded them, overlooking Long Pond.  It was so great to witness their excitement for something so simple as the body of water below, which sparked a wow, a sense of wonder that was exuding them.  But like the others that passed through, there were the others that were more concerned about the lighting for their photo and selfies, a phone intercepting the natural beauty before them.  They quickly tried to pull the kids out of the bushes for the perfect photo, a memory, rather than allowing the kids to be one with this natural world which has so much to teach each of us, and to simply be kids of wonder and adventure.

It stuck with me all day, thinking of that interaction.  At times I found the people a distraction and oblivious to where they were and what we were a part of.  I had to tell myself time and again that I’m making judgment about them.  It all just seemed to lack depth.  As I sat there, now on the outermost rock formation, relaxing and taking it in, I noticed how artificial the world too looked around me, as if like the phone, even my eyes acted as an interception to the wonder.  There was a stillness in the air, prior to the rain moving in, and everything seemed untouched and motionless.  When no one was around, all you can hear were far off voices in the distance of people passing through.  It wasn’t until I got down into the thick of it that I began to see otherwise.  I had to go beneath what I had seen with my eyes to begin to see a world of life at my fingertips, as if all the critters were going about their business before the anticipated weather.

As the day grew on, the air chilled and the rain began to fall; I listened to it bounce off my jacket, zipped to the top.  It’s July but feels more like Fall here in Acadia.  The silence, as the rain began to fall, seemed to deepen and any distractions and noise had fallen to a hush.  Sure, I should be able to find solitude anywhere, but none in the way out in nature, in places like this, which has a way of folding you into her arms and holding you, embracing you, and for those final moments in Acadia today it was there.  It was present.  I was present, no longer needing to feel frustrated and annoyed with the people that passed through, somehow taking from me what I wanted from this time.  They too are on their own journey but it didn’t have to stop me from mine, of moving these days to being one with creation with one great act of Love showing the way.  It’s much too easy to separate from others and judge.  In reality it does say more about us than them.  If I can be grateful for anything it’s that I was even aware of what was going on within me, leading me to my own adventure and wonder in my heart.  Ever so gently and slowly, nature has a way of revealing ourselves to us in a way like none other.  In the quiet, in the solitude, the truth begins to reveal itself and the truth then sets us free to wonder and explore not only the great outdoors but the inner depths of the soul’s landscape being revealed in spite of and before our very eyes.

The Further Journey

Matthew 2: 1-12

There’s a very thin line that the magi face in their lives, whether the star stops them short when the encounter Herod or recognizing there’s something and someone more; it hadn’t stopped over Jerusalem but further along. Yet, for many of us on this journey, we become captivated by the draw of the royal palace of Herod. We stop short, as the people of Jerusalem do by an illusion of peace, one brought on by fear rather than love. Yet, it’s comfortable in the palace. We have all that we need and know what we know. Isn’t that what this journey often becomes for us? We become comfortable here, in what we know, around the people that we know, safe and secure, until we find ourselves boxed in to the comforts, no longer wanting to grow and change. It’s the advantage that kids have over us adults, that they continue to have a sense of wonder and adventure, exploring, never satisfied, and looking for something more.

This story that we hear today of the magi or kings or whatever we choose to call them is really you and me. It’s our journey towards faith and love. They must encounter it all in this journey. They feel the heat of the desert, stripping layers off themselves, being with no one other than themselves. They too face the darkness and the unknown, heading out into unfamiliar terrain, looking for something, tapping into that sense of adventure and wonder, where it is that this star would lead them. But they too must confront the illustrious palace of Herod. They are invited into the inner sanctum of Herod. He shows them graciousness. He seeks their counsel and their wisdom. He finds a way to use them for his own benefit, but by now, they know there’s something more. Whereas we often find ourselves settling for the illusion of Herod and his palace in our lives, the magi invite us to a deeper place, a life of mature faith. Yet, this may be the greatest challenge we face in moving to that place because fear becomes what we know that we begin to think the illusion is the truth, is real. The magi know otherwise. We know otherwise, when we don’t allow that sense of wonder and adventure, the desire for more, to die within us. How could we possibly give up the palace when it’s what we know?

Faith is the continuation, that constant hungering for more that drives the magi from the palace to a more humble place where they find themselves today. If there were any illusions of the star stopping over Jerusalem that day, it has all been but lost. The journey they embarked on, into the unknown of God and into the unknown of themselves, leads them to this place, to this newborn king, who seems to promise much more than Herod ever could to them. Herod could hand them everything and it still wouldn’t be enough for what this child can give, a life now rooted in love, which casts out all fear. As a matter of fact, through the love of that child, who is love, and an encounter with the truth in that crib, the magi go home by a different route. Fear is no longer an option. The regalia of the palace is no longer appealing. It’s lost its appeal and all that goes with it. What has died is not the sense of wonder and adventure, the desire for more; all of that has only been given new life. What has died for the magi, and what dies for us in the encounter with this deeper mystery, is a life once known, a life of illusion brought by fear, a life that no longer satisfies the deeper longing of the heart, which leads us, too, on a different route home.

My friends, as we gather on this feast of the Epiphany, the magi point us in a new way, beyond the palace we’ve created for ourselves and the comfort of the known, to a journey into the unknown, the deeper mystery we call love. We know that palace can be very appealing to the eyes, but the heart tells us something more, something deeper that is desired, and calls us to leave that place and move to the place of greater humility, the place of the crib; where the star leads the magi, we too are led. Otherwise, we run the risk of encounters with mystery in new ways. Maybe the encounter comes through person of a different color. Maybe the encounter comes through a person of a different faith or a different way of practicing their faith, a different way of life. The illusion of the palace eventually begins to break down and we seek more in life; what once was lost becomes found, our own magi story, leading us to a place of deeper trust, deeper faith, and deeper love, to continue to allow the incarnation, God made flesh, to change our lives, lead our lives, define our lives, no longer by fear but in and through love.