Monday, October 31, 2005

Thin Places, Part Two

In an earlier blog I mentioned thin places, those locations in which we experience the depth of our spiritual lives. The ancients thought of those places as thin precisely because it is in these moments where we feel most spiritually alive.

For more than six years now we have lived in a part of the upper midwest where we are surrounded with rolling hills and prairie. There are few obvious signs of natural water (the county in which we reside is rightly called "Rock," because there are no natural lakes here), and vegetation is low-lying. There are a few trees now, some hundred plus years since non-Native settlement, but it doesn't take much to imagine the scenescape of yesteryear with mile after mile of gently undulating prairie grasses and rises. Six years ago I believed we were moving to a geographically desolate place, but I have now come to understand my surroundings to be a source of deep spiritual vitality.

As often as I can, ideally daily, I set out for the one-mile drive to the Blue Mounds State Park, where I take our walk-ever-loving dog Gizmo for a several-mile hike. On a recent early morning we arrived in the darkness of pre-dawn. Although, or maybe because, the topography is wide open there is at that hour an eerie sense that one is not alone. Shirking the need for a flashlight we penetrated the darkness and walked the steps, familiar now after years of pedestrian travel. In the crisp October air I could hear little beyond the tittering of Gizmo's nails on the pavement and the jangling of his collar tags. I could see little beneath me, nor little around me, shrouded in darkness as I was. But to look up is to experience majesty. The clear early morning darkness flashes with the brilliance of a starry host. Non-astronomer that I am, I find contentment in identifying the Big Dipper and an occasional satellite orbiting the earth. The morning I speak of, however, offered me the additional spectacle of a falling star. What we non-science types revel in as a fading shower of brilliance is what science calls the end; a "falling star" is really a dying star.

In that thinly spaced early morning moment, I am reminded of the ebb and flow of life. Even the inanimate matter we call "stars" have a life span; there is an origin, there is a decline, and there is an end. It is the lesson we learn from living, breathing things like plants and pets. It is what we learn in human relationships. But even it's not the end of the story. It cannot be.

Even as I pondered these thoughts the eastern skyline was beginning to tinge pink. As the inchoate darkness of night shrivels away, it is replaced with the warmth and promise of day. And as the morning light suffuses the horizon with possibility the sparkling grandeur of the celestial guardians fades from sight. Day by day we experience what Christian faith calls resurrection, the possibility for something new to arise from that which no longer is.

And day by day a new story emerges in this journey we call life.

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