The Place in the Woods

cabin

There is a place in my mind, tucked away in the Virginia Blue Ridge or just outside one of the little towns we love so much in the Colorado Rockies. We slip away, to this little roost, as often as we’re able. We do not come here merely to ‘get away,’ because this little porch, these acres, are not an escape but rather a way of returning – to wholeness, to the good earth, to a kind of slowness that reminds us we are humans and lovers and friends, not machines. We take our boys here and over time (and perhaps without them ever realizing what’s happened), these four walls and these kind woods become a sacred spot for them as well.

My vision has grown over the years. Now I envision a few more cabins, nestled into the hills nearby – not too far but not too close. A few friends have their own little place of laughter and wholeness. Together, we form a kind of mountain neighborhood. Together, we split wood and walk the forests and share more than a few warm dinners under moonlight. Friendships ripen here. We share a bond born in simplicity, a sense of wonder at this splendid world – and our place in it, an ever-expanding delight and gratitude, a sturdy hope that will not yield despite all the troubles, a keen sense of pleasure.

We don’t talk much about these places we share, because the whole experience seems to us a quiet thing, a neighborly thing. But we do welcome folks in as much as we’re able; we pass along the spaciousness we’ve been given. Our little spot in the woods makes us more whole, more true to ourselves and to one another. We have been given another place to love, to be welcomed into the solidness and generosity of this good world, and we are the better for it.

I don’t know if this vision will ever come to be, but I believe that even the picture of it, the possibility, enlarges my heart and keeps something very good burning bright.

 

image: anoldent

Love the World. This One.

Jean-Christophe Verhaegen
Jean-Christophe Verhaegen

A Christian has every reason to love this good old world. And I do not mean love merely in an ethical sense or as an act of Christian duty. I mean we, of all people, should be the ones most ravaged by the pink glow above the Blue Ridge on a crisp morning, the ones who linger the longest in front of a canvas colored with life, the first to delight in a French Cabernet or a slice of potato sourdough drizzled with wild honey. When we read how Virgil has died in the war and how Hannah must now brave her days alone and raise their daughter who will never know her daddy, we have reason to be first to wince at the pain, the first to give thanks for the power of the story and the first to sit with a tear and at least a little awe for the one who could tell us such a tale.

This world, with its land and its people, was God’s idea. God was the Creator who, at every twist along the way, couldn’t help himself, exclaiming over and again, “Good. Good. Good.” Then, when the whole shebang was done, God clapped his hands and let out a big guffaw and said, “Well, now I’ve done it. This, friends, is real good.”

Old Uncle Jack, one of Berry’s numerous characters teaching us how to be human, how to be a neighbor, spouse and friend, “lived all his life loving solid objects.” Old Jack took God at his word.

God said, “Now, this is good.” And Old Jack answered, “Don’t you know it.”

The Good, Small Faith

Many insist that Christian maturity means our faith grows larger and larger, but I believe that as we deepen into good life, our faith actually grows smaller and smaller. I do not mean that we come to believe in less or to believe with less fervor (though a wise professor once said, “The older I get, the more I believe in a smaller number of things.”), but rather that our beliefs find themselves decreasingly enamored with abstract theological notions all the while more and more attached to people with names and stories, to places with histories and hopes, to our own sorrows and joys.

In this deepening, narrowing place, our faith finds itself inextricably woven to the neighbor who’s spent 56 years waking to the love of his life but now wakes alone, to the child who carries our love and our blood but also our crushing regret, to the friends and the questions and the work that has made us who we are. Faith is not a set of grand truths preserved in a hermetically sealed silo. Faith is what we come to know, to hope, as we live into our actual life with the God who promises to meet us and make us within these days we’ve been given.

This means, at the least, that when we find ourselves with eyes bright, heart quiet and love attuned, we’ve likely found a place where our faith is growing fabulously smaller. Gratitude and contentment will be your friends here. Do not spend a moment critiquing whether or not this is the brand of faith you have been taught to expect. Simply give yourself to the Spirit’s invitation and whisper “thank you.”

Characters from 5th St.

Main stSince I take the same route for my pre-breakfast jog five or six days a week, I encounter many of the same characters. We’ve woven in and out of each other’s routines enough to recognize one another, though I suspect I’m easier to remember because half the time I have a small fuzzy bear loping behind me. Allow me a few introductions.

The first is a sixty-something fellow who strolls up the sidewalk on 5th street. He has a strong, purposeful stride and wears a black Ivy cap and, usually, a charcoal grey sweater. I say morning as I pass, and he replies in a no-nonsense tone, with the faintest smile. “Good morning. How are you?” My goodness, I love that man’s voice. It’s a ringer for Charlie Utter, Sheriff Bullock’s deputy in Deadwood. I feel better knowing this man walks our neighborhood.

Another sidewalk encounter offers a bit of drama. This is a younger chap, early thirties maybe. He wears a beanie, pulled tight over his head. Today the beanie was one of those with tassels hanging to the shoulders – too cute for a fellow I know as Grumpy Guy. Each time we pass, I say morning. Each time we pass, he stares dead ahead. Either stoned or ferociously angry at the world – I can’t tell, but it’s my mission to win him over, to get a hello from him. After today’s failure, I played out a fantasy. We somehow land at the same party. The music’s loud, and we both retreat to the back deck for quiet. It’s cold, and he’s pulled out the beanie with the tassels. We know each other, but awkwardly talk about the bad music instead. Turns out, the guy’s not grumpy at all. Or stoned. He’s actually a softie. He lives with his invalid grandmother, and he plays the tuba. We laugh when I admit I was always a wee concerned that one of these days he would answer my greeting with a punch to the face. He chuckles and says he wears ear buds tucked under the beanie, and he’s blasting Nirvana, paying little attention to the rest of the world. We laugh more. A good fantasy.

My favorite character this morning was a woman in a grey PT Cruiser. Stopped at a light, she laid on her horn for a good blast. I jerked her direction, and I found her smiling at me, thumb up and extended my way. She held her thumb high, making sure I saw. Way to go, she said. You got this.

Four of us met this morning. We’re not friends, we’re not exactly strangers. I can imagine, though, how we might all need one another. Grumpy Guy needs an old leathery deputy-type who’s gruff, but deep-hearted, to yank his chain (or his tassel, what have you) and call his bluff. And every good man needs a lost soul to salvage, an opportunity to pull another man from his slumber. Of course, we all need someone to cheer us on, to give us her uninhibited joy.

I’m sure each of them offer me something. I hope I have eyes to see and a heart to receive.