We were on a retreat in the rugged Ozark foothills — a day aside for prayer and reflection.
In one of our silent hours, I ventured into the pathless woods.
The woods have always been a curious and comforting place. Walking under the canopy or just sitting under a stalwart oak, it’s a magical space.
In the woods, I find myself going in two directions. One is deep inside myself to an untroubled place where peace is in the very air I breathe.
The other takes me completely out of self to a focus, almost a rapture, on the immediate world embracing me.
Walking cautiously down a steep hill, I stopped a moment to survey my trek and found myself inches from a spider’s web.
It was a seemingly impossible task. Three invisible threads anchored the web to a tree limb and two bushes, each at least four feet from the center.
The spider was working, slowly spinning the string — visible behind it until it stretched and dried.
Then it was scurrying along the web’s perimeter, perhaps checking to see that edges held. All secure, it stopped for lunch, munching on the mites caught in this life-and-death trap.
I sat and found at my feet a tiny cedar sprout, maybe three inches tall, its top half already adorned in its tell-tale greenery.
Growing in a thimbleful of dirt between the rocks, its future looked precarious, but even at this tender stage, it already knew what it wanted to be and was on its way to becoming it.
A tiny gnat was hovering at my face, wings faster than the eye could capture. At any other time, I’d swat it away. But I let it be, appreciated it, observed it. This day, I am the trespasser.
I spied a fox climbing up from the creek. Lost in fox thoughts, it didn’t notice me until I softly whistled.
It searched for the sound, found me, and then withdrew to thicker undergrowth. It stood there, nearly hidden, its coat the color of dead leaves and tree bark.
It just stared at me. Then suddenly, at the flutter of a bird, it was gone.
If we had more time, we might have been friends.
It was supposed to be an hour spent in silent prayer. I don’t know if this qualified, but I certainly felt the presence of God.
Now, if I could just become this attentive to the people in my life.