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Monk in the World Guest Post: Elaine Breckenridge

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Elaine Breckenridge’s reflection “Spiritual Guidance in and Through Creation.”  

In the summer of 2020 I had the opportunity to read the book Earth, Our Original Monastery by Christine Valters Paintner and participate in an Abbey of the Arts community retreat by the same name. The retreat helped me out of my pandemic lethargy and into the great outdoors. There I experienced, as Christine has written in the book, spiritual guidance in and through God’s creation.   

My journey began by began worshiping in a Washington state park. There I had a pew beneath a madrone tree cross overlooking the sea. The light shimmering through the trees was as beautiful as any stain glass window. Birds were my choir. A baptismal font disguised as a stream made me feel born anew. 

Worshiping in nature led me to the practice of paying attention to nature. I began following the tides. I had always favored visiting a local nature preserve when it was near high tide, preferring to watch the waves and sky. But one day I visited the beach when the tide was at its lowest point. “Pay attention” the elements said to me. “So many gifts, so many messages are below you and within you.” I looked down to the ground and in between the rocks. What the outgoing tide had left behind was magnificent. 

God was speaking to me through this experience. As I began paying attention to my own inner landscape, I realized how much I crave excitement like the rolling high tide. Now I was being invited to observe and enjoy my energy when it is at its ebb. Afterall, what might be hidden and then revealed between the rocky points in my life? 

Paying attention to creation led me to the practice of speaking directly to and with creation. One day, I encountered a grove of madrone trees whom I had never met before. As I grew closer, I was shocked to see the number of signatures people had carved into their lovely limbs. I spent quite some time with the trees. Sitting below them on the ground I wrote in my journal, recounting my experience:     

Madrone Tree, Iverson Preserve, Camano Island, Washington

A community of madrones welcomes me into their midst.
Even as they hold the sunlight, they hold me,
allowing me to be close to touch limbs which each tell a story.
I see scars made by human initials carved
into their skin. It makes me angry.

The Wise One speaks, “Come here my dear,
lay an ear against my arm.
Listen and feel the pulse of veriditis
greening new skin while peeling
back another layer, shedding my cares below.
You too must practice letting go.”

I study her complex designs and textures.
“You are beautiful” I whisper.
She whispers back “And so are you.”
I tilt my head up and back and see them dancing with the sky.
“How are you so fluid and flexible?” I ask.

“We never stop moving!” the chorus replies.
“We follow the light. We search for love and joy
even on the darkest days. We look east and
know that the sun will rise.
You should do likewise.”

I step back to get a broader view.
“How intertwined you all are!”
“Of course! We grow by needing one another.”
“Find and stick to your tribe” the Wise One said.
I bow to my new friends. “Thank you for showing me the way.”
“Come back and see us anytime! they say.

Light on the path, Camano State Island Park, Washington 

Letting go. Embrace your beauty. Never stop moving. Look for the light and joy.  Find and stick to your tribe. What wonderful spiritual guidance.     

The guidance continues. In the early spring, I had a terrible chest cold. I found myself slipping into self-pity and depression. I prayed and hit a wall of silence. The sun was out and beckoned me to come outdoors. The wind was wild so I wrapped myself in a blanket and sat in a chair on my deck and tried praying again. I asked the Spirit, who rides on the breath of the wind, to sweep me out and heal me.    

Suddenly, I was presented with healing images of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary was holding an image of Christ– me as an infant. Then the image changed and she was holding me as a toddler. And then a child. A teenager. All through my lifecycle, I was presented with images of being held in the arms of the divine feminine. When the vision faded, love, peace and joy flooded my being. The next morning, I awoke in much better health. There is no question that God used the elements of the wind and the Spirit’s love to heal me in body, mind and heart.     

God is revealed in creation. The more time I have spent being in God’s magnificent creation; the more I have become aware of God’s love, guidance and healing. I am being made whole. As Christine says in her book, “We are called to live the life of the new creation in which right relationship in all of creation is restored.” God, working through creation is offering us this guidance. We can all be a part of this great restoration.        

The Rev. Elaine H. Breckenridge is a retired Episcopal priest residing on Camano Island, Washington. She enjoys serving as a substitute priest on Sundays, caring for two grandsons, exploring nature, and writing.

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