Sunday, December 02, 2007

Waking Up

This is what it looks like to wake up in the bed where I spent the past two nights.

(Well, not exactly, because unbeknownst to me the camera battery was on its last leg and didn’t flash, so the light/dark contrast wasn’t quite as dramatic as this appears.)

Essentially, though, this is what I woke up to yesterday morning and the day before that.

It is definitely a room with a view, with six ceiling-to-floor windows and long horizontal windows where full-length either would not fit or would not be appropriate.

Surrounded by woods, the cabin is made of cedar wood. To me it feels more natural than anything. Maybe a canvas tent would rival it, but all the tents these days are made of synthetics, it seems, often with bright unnatural colors.

Have I written before about St. Columba? I know I wrote about discovering the deer that were illegally killed there. But have I written about how much I love this place? Possibly not, because it’s impossible to put into words.

This retreat center north of Memphis has blessed my life so deeply that I can say I would not be the person I am without it. Almost ten years ago I went for the first time, and I’ve been going back ever since.

It was here I reclaimed sanity after the stressful last weeks of my graduate program and began in earnest the search for what my life would be about once school was finished.

It was here I met Father Stevens, whom I have written about (February 13, 2006)--and who left this life a little over two months ago. I will write about him again.

It was here I first encountered the rhythm and discipline of the daily office and the beauty and power of the Book of Common Prayer.

It is here that time and again I am renewed, refreshed, and sustained in ways that go deeper than I can understand or explain.
It is here that I connect with the peace that surpasses understanding.

I came to the woods for my recent stay after one of the most stressful situations to occur in my years as a counselor. Because of the situation I kept my cell phone on, and I was called late at night and stayed on the phone until midnight, and had to go back into town the next day to deal with things.

Even so, my sense of the past few days is one of peace. Images of trees, geese, ducks, deer, a blue heron, an owl in flight, falling leaves, and still water fill my mind and promise to remind me in the days to come that there is a reality beyond my daily tasks.

As I was driving out to St. Columba after the second very stressful day at my office, I looked up over the lanes of traffic and saw a rainbow. A long, lovely rainbow just before sunset, looking as if it ended right above the retreat center. Another promise, another reminder not to get too caught up in the things that are so messed up, but to focus on the One who is eternal and is more merciful than we can imagine.

For me there is no better way to do that than to spend time in the woods. We go way back, the woods and I, and they take me places I can get to no other way.

Hopkins’ words come to mind, “the dearest freshness deep down things.” And come to think of it, his poem speaks to morning time as well, so here it is (with apologies that I cannot get the indentions to work) to end this post that began with a picture of the dark-scattering sun:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Lucy said...

A beautiful post about a beautiful place. A pity you had to come away like that, and were unable to extricate yourself from your work, but thank heaven you were able to draw the strength you did.
St Columba's Iona was a place that meant a great deal to me at a crucial time, so the name has resonances for me. Good to read the Hopkins again too.

Sheila said...

Oh, Lucy, I want so much to visit Iona! The retreat center here also has a house called Iona House, and there are prints on the walls of the original Iona. I suppose that's where I first learned of it.

What a world...I think this is the best the Internet can offer, connecting people who then find how many other connections they have and didn't know about.