I’m sitting on a little hill and gazing down on the Milford valley below. A small town of multi-colored buildings lies before me. Motorized traffic winds its way up and down the road between Wooster Pike and Main Street. Various birds are calling to whomever will listen to them while I pause with pen on paper, the black ink seeping into the page until I remember to lift my pen up from the notepad. The whipped cream clouds above are in no hurry to move along as they hang in the sea of cerulean blue above. The budding leaves of the trees give me a hint of their variety of colors before turning a more uniform green later in the season. It is a little past mid-April today. The trunks and branches of the silverleaf poplars are a woody white, just like all the year round.
Someone is hammering at something hard below, and the sound echoes across the valley. Professional roofers would be using power hammers, but this hammer is swinging with human power—four, five, and six bangs at a time. Gradually, it becomes a background noise, just like the cars and the birds and the wind in the trees, as I settle more deeply into the moment.
Bikers pass by here since I am near the Little Miami Scenic Trail. I pay no attention to them because the budding trees have me mesmerized with so much living, breathing beauty. I seem to be in an outdoor art museum without frames or pedestals. My eyes fall deeper and deeper into the mystery of the trees while the powerlines on the nearby telephone poles quietly transfer human power and knowledge far and wide. While in awe of all of this, my attention is momentarily startled by a cell phone ring, but I decide not to answer it.
So much is happening that I can hardly remember why I came here in the first place and why, after work and after fixing the back porch awning and after chatting with the girls playing cards in the kitchen and after eating lunch and playing with the newborn baby, I came here, as if lured by friendly forces. What did I come here for? It’s the same question I had as I was leaving the girls and the grandbaby. While driving down Shawnee Run Road, I asked myself: “Ray, are you leaving to go somewhere, or to get away?” I’m pretty sure now it was to get away, but away from what? For what? From confusion, perhaps, or for peace—I guess. As I ponder the question some more, I’m persuaded that I came here to allow something new to come to me.
Our pastor, Jim Newby, often ends his sermons with the line, “And of these new beginnings there can be no end,” (or something very similar to that). I always like hearing those words. I’m reminded of how the comedian Bob Hope used to end his variety hour with the words “Thanks for the memories” and how, for ten straight years, Carol Burnett ended her weekly broadcast with “I’m so glad we had this time together.” Sonny and Cher (remember their show from the 1970s?) used to end each episode with the song I Got You Babe. Like a well-rehearsed song, Jim Newby returns often to the notion of new beginnings that have no endings. I like all these closing remarks; so much so that I want to come up with a closing remark of my own. What might it be?
Lately, I am attracted by the notion of seeking the face of God. Every day, and in nearly every place, I could say: I’m seeking the face of God. But is it the truth? Maybe some of the time—even a lot of the time—but certainly not all the time. Right now, I’m mesmerized again, this time by a single shagbark hickory tree in front of me. The light and colored patterns of the leaves spring like lighted gold in the April sunlight. The silhouette of the tree branches against the whipped cream and cerulean blue sky are a vision reflecting the glory of God in all of creation. In contrast, the shadows on the tree’s trunk, on its living bark, are beautiful announcements about time and struggle, evolution and grace. You may say I’m crazy, but I also see the faces of creation’s ancestors in the hickory bark, and I see the universal patterns of life and death in there, too.
I’m beginning to think that I came to this place to merge myself—mind, body, and soul—into the patterns of nature and to use these patterns to cross over that daunting long-distance divide between my usual self and the self of nature’s God. Here, in places like this, I can touch that inner chord that sings of the beauty of the face and glory of God both within and all around me. I’m not kidding about this either—the face and glory of God!
Hours have passed now, and the moment here is ripe, I think, for sitting in meditation. I will only entertain one more notion before firmly leaving all notions behind for 20-30 minutes. Some remembered words from my own adaptation of Psalm 139 are filtering through, reminding me of a personal conviction about life and love.
Where can I go from your spirit,
Or, where can I flee from your face?
If I say: “Let the darkness hide me”
You see through, clear as the day.
Too wonderful for me this knowledge
It is beyond my reach.
Behind me and before me
You know me with your love.
“You know me with your love.” This is my closing remark, like Jim Newby’s new beginnings that have no endings. It sums up my life right now. Someone knows me with his love, her love, love’s love. It has been worth it to get away from everything to experience this again. The girls, the newborn baby, and the many, many tasks of life will still be there, waiting for my apparent hide-and-seek to end. When I’m done here, I will be ready for them all—refreshed and ready, thanks to this encounter with that which knows me, and everything, with divine love.