God called to [Moses] from out of the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ He said, ‘Yes? I’m right here!’ God said, ‘Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground'” (Exodus 3:4-5, The Message).
The feeling of sacredness was unmistakable. Descriptive words escaped me as I felt embraced by holiness. Peace, wonder and joy were my company. I was grateful that I’d left my cell phone in my vehicle and that only one other human had appeared and she passed through. Thank God I’m not inside right now, I thought.
I knew something was coming when I awoke earlier that day. I went about my morning routine, even dressing myself for my favorite exercise class of the week. But a feeling in my core told me to prepare differently. I donned my gym clothes and packed my water bottle, as usual. Unlike normal, I also packed my Bible, my journal, a pen and the book I’m currently reading in a back pack. It was a compulsion and I couldn’t explain it. I’ve learned throughout my almost 2-year-old transformational journey with God not to question or even attempt to name when such a feeling engrosses me. It’s God stirring. It’s best that I follow and experience now and process and think later. After taking both of my children to school, my van drove itself, it seemed. Instead of taking a left to go to the Y, I took a right and drove to the nature preserve.
A nice concrete path leads pedestrians and those on wheels through the wooded preserve. A sign telling people to be watchful of wildlife announces that this place is not as manicured as the surrounding suburbia. Purposefully so. Sights of trees, sounds of birds and insects, the feeling of a gentle breeze and little-to-no mechanization had a refreshing assuaging effect on me. My breathing became slower and deeper. I began to be thankful that I’d heeded my intuition when I saw it…a trod footpath leading into the woods. Go in there, my body beckoned. About 5 steps in my brain assented.
I had begun my nature walk feeling oppressed. The weight of financial concerns; the devastation caused by the long Texas heat and drought and recent wildfires; and vocational uncertainty was palpable. I wanted, needed to release it to God, and I felt God inviting me to do so. When feeling burdened, my typical practice is to lift my head towards the heavens, raise my arms and open my hands as I pray and envision the yuck inside me exiting my body like a vapor and ascending. This time, it didn’t work for me. I tried again to no avail. Bend down, a voice said in my head, and touch the tree, the earth, the fallen leaves. I hesitated. Down, not up? This was a new experience. Once again, my body took the lead and left my brain to follow.
I crouched down and touched the exposed root of the tree. A tingling burgeoned throughout my body, many paths making their way to my hand. Then my hand began to tingle as the aforementioned internal yuck seemed to exit through my hand and into the tree. I moved on. Next I rubbed the fallen leaves through my fingers; next I picked up the soil in my hand and allowed it to flow through my fingers like a sieve; next I stood to smell the pine leaves, bringing the leaves so close to my face they pricked my nose, cheeks and forehead. With each touch of nature, my oppression decreased until its presence was no more. Awed, I sat down on a nearby footbridge and took in the scene and my encounter some more. Time passed unconsciously. “This is my cathedral,” I wrote in my journal.
In her acclaimed book “>An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor writes that the world is saturated with the divine presence, full of altars that people have erected to mark an existential experience of God. Furthermore, we’d be constantly stubbing our toes, nicking our shins and tripping if each place infused with the sacred were recognized. One need not look up or mentally float out of the body and away from earth to heaven in order to find, feel and see glimpses of God at work. Checking in with one’s body, communing with nature, noticing one’s environment and even performing menial tasks are exceptional spiritual practices in their own right. When I first read this book about two years ago, I enjoyed it. That day in the nature preserve woods, I grasped what Rev. Brown Taylor meant. I was altered.
Those woods for me were sacred ground graced with God’s holy presence to be sure. I experienced God as a mother, willingly and lovingly taking the illness of me, her child, into her own body as I have done for my girls when I care for them in their sickness. I envisioned Jesus on the cross, willingly and lovingly absorbing all of humanity’s wretchedness to give each of us new life. I felt more connected and centered in God than I ever have, solidly grounded and firmly planted in the bosom of the Faithful One that is creation.
Next time, I’ll take off my shoes.