Friday, March 11, 2016

Earth's Crammed With Heaven

"Alive With God"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Almost every day I take a walk in the desert wilderness area just outside my house and I often follow the same trail, so it's usually a pretty familiar place to me. Yesterday as I walked the trail something happened that turned the ordinary and familiar into a very extraordinary and awe-filled moment. As I walked the trail, a tree that I pass by almost every day virtually leapt into my awareness. Seemingly overnight the tree had burst into a bright array of excruciatingly beautiful golden-yellow spring blossoms so bright that it seemed to “glow” in the sunlight. It was such a holy moment for me, it was such a “thin space” as I stood there gazing in awe at that “tree of life” bursting with energy rising up out of the dry desert sand in the middle of the wilderness.

I think about the wonderful story of “Moses and the Burning Bush” found in the Hebrew Scriptures. As the story goes, Moses goes up onto a mountain where he meets “God” who is revealed to him as a burning bush. Moses is surrounded by and immersed in the Holy Presence of intensely burning, blazing Love. It is as if a thick veil is lifted as Moses enters into a very “thin space,” profoundly aware of a Holy Abiding Presence. Moses knows that he is standing on  “holy ground”  and so he reverentially removes his sandals

My experience yesterday was a “Moses and the Burning Bush” kind of moment. As I walked out into the wilderness it was as if I had walked onto the mountaintop. A veil was lifted and I saw an ordinary tree that I had passed by every day on fire with such life and energy that I almost couldn’t take it all in. It was a Holy Presence so intense that I knew I was standing on “holy ground” – I wonder if I should have taken off my shoes?

I am reminded of a verse of one of my very favorite poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush alive with God
But only he who sees takes off his shoes
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries

From my point of view this verse of poetry almost perfectly describes the nature of any spiritual journey regardless of what path you may be on.

Of course if you think of “God” as a separate heavenly “superman” out there and up there, separated and apart from everything and everyone down here, then it will be quite difficult to encounter Holy Presence in a bush or a tree, a soaring bird, a lover or a friend. But if “God” is that abiding life force, the energy of Love pulsating in and through everything and everyone that exists, then “God” can indeed be encountered in the most ordinary moments of everyday life – in every common bush.  

Wendell Barry once observed:

There are no unsacred places;
only sacred places
And desecrated places.

As I see it, all of us are always walking on “holy ground.” At work, at school, in the supermarket, in the coffee shop, on city streets, on a trail in a desert wilderness -  every place we ever stand is “holy ground” but most of the time we are simply unaware of it because our
minds are too preoccupied with thoughts about the past or visions of the future as we plan and plot for the days ahead. Or perhaps we are unaware of the “holy ground” on which we stand because we only expect a church, a temple or a mosque to be a sacred space and so instead of taking off our shoes we just “sit around and pluck blackberries."

Poet and author, Chris Wiman, beautifully describes his spiritual journey

What I crave is
Mystery that utterly obliterates reality by utterly inhabiting it,
some ultimate insight that is still sight.

Standing on “holy ground” in front of that gloriously blossoming wilderness tree yesterday, I encountered the “Great Mystery” that utterly obliterates reality by utterly inhabiting it.

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