This morning, drinking hot tea while Katie slept, I scrolled through Facebook. For the most part, I hate the way everything someone likes shows up on my newsfeed. For a while I stopped following folks because so much showed up that didn’t interest me. Eventually, I learned how to manage that petty irritation without losing touch with the people who did interest me.
That being said, every so often something shows up that I am glad a friend liked. This morning, I was delighted to see some Adirondack chairs that the husband of a friend of a friend had made. Yes, I know that’s convoluted but I want to be specific. I want you to know that I’m not talking about mass-produced chairs made wherever mass-produced yard furniture is being made these days.
Perhaps, I should be specific, too, in how I am feeling today. I feel as though I am convalescing — though I am not. Yesterday I led a retreat at St. Martin Monastery in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I knew when I agreed to lead the retreat that the group would be small. The area in which the Benedictine sisters who call the monastery home offer retreats is small, and only holds 12-15 people. However, there was a bit of a glitch in the promotion, and for a bit it looked as though the only people to attend would be a couple sisters, my daughter and a friend. In the end a dozen people attended.
Leading a retreat is — for me — a far different experience than simply teaching. I begin months in advance to pray about the retreat, pray for openness to the Spirit, pray to be guided in what I will share. For several months, I just take notes, write down ideas, note Scripture passages which come to mind when I am praying. Then, about six weeks before the retreat, I begin to put the actual presentations together. I’ll type them up as though I am speaking to the retreatants, and then review them off and on. The day before the retreat, I’ll finally go through all of the presentations in order to ensure they sequence appropriately.
On the day of the retreat, I hold the presentations in my hand, so that I can read any actual quotes I use, but for the most part I just speak to those in attendance. Because I was leading a retreat on journal-writing as prayer yesterday, 10-20 minute presentations were interspersed with time for the women to write and to withdraw in solitude. During the retreat, I felt more than alive. I felt both hollow and full, like a pipe through which water rushed — not just flowed, but rather was pushed under pressure like a fire hose.
As we said the Lord’s Prayer at the end, that energy flowed out of me, and I was just hollow. I felt blessed, but desperately in need of solitude. This led my daughter and I to simply drive through the Southern Hills, through Keystone and Hill City, past Sylvan Lake and Mount Rushmore, and through Custer State Park. At first we just drove in silence, but eventually I felt restored enough for some playful bantering, not much, but some. And, we paused at some scenic overlooks for pictures.
It was good, but also a reminder of how the mountain pine beetle had decimated the Hills. When I moved to California, acres and acres were brown with dead trees, though there were still swatches of green here and there. Heading out of Rapid City, it initially appeared that nature was already healing itself. Then I noticed how young the trees were and how sparsely populated the slopes were with these trees. We moved into areas where I could see the dead trees were being cleared — not only for aesthetic purposes, I am sure, but also because of the fire hazard they pose. But, in some areas, the dead trees still stood like silent witnesses of the forest which was once vibrant with life.
This morning, I saw that a friend had liked a post in which one of her friends posted a picture of Adirondack chairs her husband had made from what is known as “bug wood,” wood from trees killed by the mountain pine beetle. He finished the chairs with a clear lacquer which brought out the beauty of the wood, and I found myself wishing I was driving home rather than flying. I wanted one of those chairs.
They were in my convalescing state a powerful spiritual symbol. Nothing could bring life back to the trees killed by an insect, but that very end opened the possibility of another form of beauty, another form of life and comfort crafted by the hands of a man who could see it. Isn’t that what our lives are about, endings and crafting with what remains something of beauty that continues to hold us?
And isn’t that what God tells us is the natural rhythm of life as he intended us to live it. With the resurrection and butterflies and the man who makes Adirondack chairs with bug wood — and with our own lives if we look with God’s eyes — the pattern of renewal is the pattern of heaven lived out on earth today.
It will be several days until this vulnerability I feel passes, but I am grateful for it. I am grateful for the way it opens my eyes. I am grateful. God is good.