I am sitting in the airport in Portland, waiting for my flight to Baltimore and then Birmingham. In about 12 hours, I should be putting down my bags at home. My month-long vacation will end in two days and Sunday morning will find me back at church.
This has been extra-ordinary time. Not so much ‘time out of time’ as ordinary time I could look for and see. I’ve already written some about the earlier part of the month, when Sherod and I on the chicken coop. On a rainy day here in Maine, I started a piece for our church newsletter next week based on a hike I’d just taken the day before. Otherwise, I largely avoided writing and that was intentional. Writing allows me to reflect on my experiences and this time, I didn’t really want the distancing I have to find when I write. What mattered was that I was here, now.
The days unfolded with a strange and beautiful order that had little to do with planning or preparations. Each day felt like a page with nothing written on it yet, gleaming with possibilities within some well-defined contours. There were several days when the weather was bad—either rainy or, on Saturday, very overcast, and cold, with gale-force winds caused by Hurricane Fiona. My original intent had been to hike, and hike, and then hike some more. On the days when bad weather met my rising, I allowed them to show me the way into the day. If I sat quietly, considering what I might do, the options were exactly right for what I had yearned for on this trip.
One day, I couldn’t walk outside, but I could go to the Farnsworth Museum in Belfast. This small museum has a remarkable collection of paintings by 3 generations of Wyeths: N.C., his son, Andrew, and Jamie, Andrew’s son. The collection is stunning, and it was all the richer for me after my visit to Monhegan Island where all three Wyeths often painted. In another piece, I’ve written about how the ordinary is made holy by our work. The reverse is equally true. I have to remember that luminous, holy, paintings, so beautiful they are surely pleasing to God, are possible because of ordinary materials, like paper, and the egg tempera paints Andrew Wyeth made himself with egg yolks, vinegar, water, and pigments from vegetables and minerals.
This past Saturday, as the edges of Fiona made the trees shudder, I turned to a new friend, Tim, for advice because I knew there was no way in heck to try to hike. He pointed me to the West Quoody Lighthouse, on the eastern-most point in the United States. When I got there, I realized the islands I saw across the water from Quoody were in Nova Scotia and my watch automatically moved forward one hour to Atlantic Time, the time zone farthest east in Canada.
I am grateful that the beauty and grace of this trip were revealed as much by the days that might have been disappointing, as by the days when the water was a million stars shimmering on a crisp fall day in Maine. The question still lingered for me: why had I made this quest/pilgrimage/sabbath time? I found an answer, or at least a partial one.
It starts with the reflection by Julian of Norwich, about the hazel nut she held in her hand as the Bubonic Plague raged in Europe: “And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it.”(Revelations of Divine Love). It isn’t just that in the hollow of God’s hands, all creation is so tiny, and I am even tinier, and there is wonder in that. It isn’t just that all of creation is held in God’s hands. What shatters so many of my defenses, my false sense of control and autonomy, is a deeper understanding that in this small space, all creation is one, gathered together in love.
I was well rested. Every day, I listened to Julian’s wisdom as I prayed using this form of the Anglican Rosary created by All Saints, Omaha. I had so little to clutter my time that I noticed much more about God’s world around me. The captain of the ferry to Mohegan Island suddenly used the PA to announce a bald eagle was flying towards us. I’d never seen one and my heart just raced! I was delighted at Barred Island, when, for a little while, a robin hopped and skipped along, in front of me, on the trail I was hiking. Another time, I had to slow way down even though I was eager to get to my destination, because a gull was walking very placidly ahead of me, ignoring the sporty, bright blue lummox of a car behind her. There was one moment, when I was driving towards one of the more isolated areas of Acadia National Park, Schoodic Point, that brought this all into focus for me. Came around a curve and saw a deer standing facing in my direction by the side of the road. I stopped immediately. The deer and I made eye contact like I never had with a wild creature before; after a several breaths, the deer started walking towards me without ever looking away.
It is possible that this is a deer accustomed to being fed by park visitors; who knows, and who cares. The deer never came right up to my car and eventually, turned around and bounded away. That day, as I continued on my ride to the lighthouse far further north, I wondered why I had felt so oddly reassured by that encounter. I think it comes down to this: all my life I have been a boundary person, always wondering if I belonged. There have been times when I have felt utterly alone and lonely. That deer gifted me with a precious pearl—maybe the most precious pearl of all in God’s “kin-dom”—we don’t just share space, or, even a brief moment of eye contact, we are connected to each other in ways too deep to fathom. We are all kin. We all belong.
In just a bit, they will call us to board the flight out of Portland. I am joyful knowing I get to go back to the rest of my kin—my chicken and dog friends, my spouseman, my church, all kinds of other bits and pieces, that help make up that “tiny thing, the quantity of a hazel nut,” that Julian gazed upon with such wonder.
Your words and wonder bring me down to earth at times when I need it. Thank you for sharing your moments of being closely to connected to creation and the Creator.