A walk in the woods with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (column)
Walking Our Faith
Kiki, my Newfoundland, has run into the woods and refuses to come when I call her home. So, I head off into the woods behind my house to find her. It’s a bright sunny day, but because of the density of trees, once I enter the woods I walk in deep shadows.
I’m not afraid because I know my home is nearby, and I can see sunlit wet lands at the far edge of the woods, where there is a break in the trees. There is a snow-melt fed stream bisecting my path and I pause to hop over it. The sound of the running water is pleasant, and I imagine how pleasant it would be to fall asleep to its sound.
As I hop, the blanket of pine needles and loose moss and pine cones slide forward beneath my back foot and I am tossed backwards into the stream. My gaze follows the arc of my fall. The canopy of tree branches above my head has been replaced by a canopy of stars against deepest dark pre-dawn sky when they shine their brightest.
How many nights have one of my restless dogs brought me outside to witness this brilliant display? How magnificent their beauty. And yet, I am reminded of their distance and despite the speed of light, I am seeing only a memory of their existence.
I don’t know their names, or if I did they would be names I had given them, not adequate to their beauty and complexity. And although I might look from one edge of the horizon to the other … I see only a sliver of the Milky Way, not the vastness of the many galaxies that we are part of. For a moment I imagine this endless carpet of universes, where dimensions of time and energy and substance have meanings my mind will never grasp.
So it is with God. Our Creator omnipresent and omnipotent. If we are incapable of understanding the magnificence of his creation, how can we ever understand the magnificence of our Creator? Still, it is he that constantly seeks us out. He asks us to call him Abba, Father, daddy, gentle names to endear us not to a force greater and more distant than the stars I admire, but as close as the memory of my own father, who I dearly loved.
In the Old Testament, God told Elijah to hide himself in the cleft of a mountain, then God passed by, not as a hurricane, but as a gentle whisper. But still a stranger. I imagine it was just as lonely for God as it was for us, to be separated by the distance of our limited understanding.
It takes a moment to gain my bearings and then I scramble back to my feet. I brush the dead leaves from my pants, which are remarkably dry since I’ve been sitting in a mountain stream. I look up again and the forest canopy has returned, the sun sends ribbons of pale light through the branches.
I head toward the open wet lands, calling Kiki’s name as I go. I notice then that I am not alone, but walking by my side is Jesus Christ, dressed for a walk in the woods in canvas jeans and a flannel shirt, closer to my middle age, hair and beard more silver than brown.
We don’t speak in words, but in the way I sometimes hear him, as a quiet voice in my heart. It makes perfect sense that God would come to earth as his son, Jesus, to walk with us, as he is walking with me now. So near and real I can invite him to sit at my dinner table and share a pot of vegetable soup, a slice of crusty baked bread, slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt, and a glass of red wine to drink. Over dinner we can discuss why he came to live among us.
Human and divine. Impossible. Poor, born of a virgin, uneducated yet taught universal truths that remain with us today. Not the military hero we’d hoped for. An advocate for the disenfranchised, the outcast, the sinners, yet he treated all with love. How could he be the Messiah? Crucified in the most horrible manner. Rose from the dead after three days to reveal his divinity. What was the point of all that suffering?
But that’s exactly the point, God, I AM, Jesus, has always sought us out. Whether as Elijah’s gentle breeze, Moses’ burning bush, and finally in human form, Jesus. He comes to show us how dearly he loves us, how we should love one another, and we kill him for it.
I reach the edge of the forest and I’m enveloped in sunshine. It beats down on my shoulders and warms me. Yet, I feel cold inside. The warmth provided by the presence of the Son of God is gone and despite the natural beauty of my surroundings, I am desolate.
But then there is the softest whisper of a breeze and I encounter the Holy Spirit. Surrounding me, and then I realize, indwelling within me. The presence of God will never leave me now. Even when I am alone again in the depths of the forest, God is with me. Not in symbol or in the memory of the stars, but alive within me. This is the purpose of the Holy Spirit.
I march across the wet lands and as I clear the bramble, I see Kiki, my little Newfie, waiting for me, curled up on my doorstep next to her big brother, Henry.
To understand the essential nature of God as Three-in One, and One-in-Three, is difficult. But my walk in the woods provided an example I understand. God always loves us. He pursues us by every means. That is the gift of the Trinity.
Every day my walk of faith takes me deeper into the woods of holy mystery. And each day I encounter questions which can only be answered by God. His presence is always nearby, full of love, even when I cannot see him, I know he is near.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson lives in Breckenridge.
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