When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry
Yesterday I went to the woods again with my friend Kathy. The trail was lined with great moss-coated maples and firs and parallels the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River for a while before turning up towards the beautiful Twin Falls. More than once I lay my hands on trees, curling my fingers into moss, and gave thanks for the peace of wild things. The forest is a midwife of dreams and longings. A space that never fails to bring new things to birth in me.
Like Berry, for a time I rested in the grace of the world and was free. Free to be fully myself. Free to let schedules and to-do lists slide down off my shoulders. I am trying to keep Wednesday as my Sabbath time, a break in the middle of the week to let go of my hold on the world and come into the presence of a different wisdom, and let my whole way of being be seized by it.
I have been feeling a call to life’s edges lately, to dwell fully in those border spaces of unknowing and holy possibility. At my peer supervision group last week I was able to embody this calling for a few moments, to enter into this image that has been stirring within me, God’s hands anointing me with sacred oil and sending me forth to live into the edges: the places of grief, where life and death touch, liminal places and thin spaces where heaven rains down and soaks our skin, the upside down landscape of dreams, the otherness of wild places, to embrace stillness and community in equal measure, to celebrate life’s messiness rather than try to fit it into neat boxes, witnessing to the new that has yet to be even born, wrapping myself in dark fertile moments, to live the monastic tradition fully in the heart of the city. It is what my friend Rachelle called Omer, the in between time in Jewish tradition to mark the space between Passover and Shavu’ot. Rilke said “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
I first began articulating this calling last January when I was away on retreat at Saltspring Island in British Columbia and spent long hours on this stunning trail that ran along the edge of ancient rainforest and the sea. The image of that border space has been haunting me all these months, echoing somewhere so deeply within me that I want to reach down into my belly and turn myself inside out, laying all that I am out on the sacred altar and ask God to send down fire.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about the need to find God at the edges of human boundaries, and when we free ourselves to dwell there, we find ourselves right in the heart of the holy, in the sacred center of the Great Mystery of all that is.
Venture out to the edges with me. I’ll meet you there.
-Christine Valters Paintner
(please note the photo above was actually taken at Tiger Mountain in Issaquah last spring, not far from where we were, I sadly forgot my camera on this excursion)