Last Tuesday of the retreat I took my afternoon free time after I was done with spiritual direction to take a walk. It was raining. The funny thing is that I had hoped for one day of rain to force me to go indoors (to one of the sacred spaces below) to spend time journaling, praying, reading, reflecting. But when the rain came, I didn't feel like being indoors--I felt called to explore the river. I've always felt at peace along the water. Someone else has felt the same way--they built stone chairs (I didn't sit in one, but I heard that at least one was quite comfortable).
Along the hike up river, someone had been stacking stones, making cairns. The funny thing is that on the airplane ride out, I had grabbed our local paper to read. The cover article was about a guy from a nearby town who had been stacking rocks at the beach last weekend. He talked about how it was an act that brought him to a peaceful place (it said he was a graduate of a local Bible college, so I think that his peace comes out of his faith). So I started doing that as I walked upstream. And it was relaxing, peaceful. I knew those markers wouldn't be there long, but I felt compelled to make them--not to leave my mark, but to let God and His creation leave its mark on me.
Walking upstream, I went along rocky plains. Occasionally I would have to hop across a small channel of the river to get to the next rocky pathway, or make a bridge with stones. Eventually I got to the end of where I could go on my side of the river--and the river was wide and deep enough that the other side was out of reach. I felt led to carry large stones and build a large cross. I'm still not sure why, but again it felt good--there was something about the effort in carrying those heavy boulders. After building an altar at the point of that "island" I hopped across a small arm of the river to the embankment which rose up, quite steeply out of the water.
I had seen up ahead in the river a large, stone wall that jutted out (its in the middle of the picture). I wanted to get there (there wasn't much of a view of the mountains that day, because it was a little cloudier, but I just wanted to explore). So I made my way up the bluff (which wasn't easy in the rain) and found at the top a small, brown ribbon of a pathway that cut through the verdant, moss-covered forest floor. I got to the rock wall--a narrow protrusion into the river.
And then it was time to hike back for supper. As I retraced my steps, at some point it came into my head that I had just played in God's playground. I sensed that God was delighted in the joy and peace I experienced while exploring the river and forest. (This was a very odd image for me to have in my head, so I knew that God was giving me something special. And this vision would connect with things God revealed to me in the days ahead--stay tune for future posts.) I came to the retreat hoping to receive a specific vision for doing ministry where I'm at. I wanted details and logistics for programs. God began to work in me, reminding me that it's about our relationship with God first. I know this. But it's harder to practise it. I had decided the day before that I am haunted by Brother Lawrence (who wrote the book Practicing the Presence of God). Since I came across that book over a decade ago, I have been desiring to go through life living in the knowledge that God is by my side at all times. But I haven't been able to get to that place. I think through this experience God was beginning to show me that I can experience Him more.
I just need to get beyond having all sorts of spiritual growth things (disciplines) in my head, to getting them to my heart. I often do them just to say that I do them. But I don't let myself get to the point where I'm anticipating meeting God through those times--and I stop doing them before I get to the point where my heart is open to things happening. But that is my goal now--to keep on with the spiritual disciplines we pracised during the week (and others I know), anticipating meeting God in those times and trying to stay focused on my relationship with God rather than trying to "do" ministry and just be about the programs. If I'm not growing deeper into my relationship with God, nothing else I do is going to be successful.