Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Tale of Two Forests

I just left the Maine coast where our family has a summer cabin.  The trip was elegantly restful.  The mornings were spent reading, writing and, after breakfast, repairing the old cabin.  We have become the quintessential American family much to our dismay; a family scattered on two coasts who dreams of coming together again someday.  The cabin in Maine, first envisioned by my mother, and built by our families over three decades, is as close to home as we have.  I call it my "soul's home" and I find I must repair to its simplicity every summer.

After lunch, we went hiking.  The Maine woods, especially coastal Maine, is a more sylvan experience than the crashing California surf line I call my current address.  The woods are old; built on thousands of years of vegetative waste atop solid granite, they unfold to the sea shore, all roots, and moss and streams.  To walk in them towards the coast, especially at high tide, is to meet an old friend.

Frances remained on the island to work and meet our daughter Emma and her friends for another week.  I stepped off the ferry onto a bus and then a plane for the trip west, shocked at how jarring the so-called 'real' world can be when you have been virtually disconnected from the web.  Indeed, the web, as Nicholas Carr in his new book The Shallows points out, throws a net over our minds, limiting our attention, and flattening our ability to do deep thinking.  Another argument for the spiritual practice of reading a real book for an hour a day.

Arriving in Oregon, I, son-in-law Aaron and grandkids went for a beautiful hike into the mountains to see the most amazing waterfall.  As we hiked along the rushing stream, I commented how different this forest was from the sylvan woods of Maine; more majestic, even dramatic, dry and towering, the water of the falls shouting out into the cathedral of trees.  Indeed, these are much younger and impetuous hills. Where the forest of downeast Maine was restful, the forests of the Oregon Cascades were thrilling.  Each has its place.

All of which helped me realize that grace meets us in different ways.  The throb of mediocrity, can, if we permit it, yield to new resolve.  The thrill of excitement can give way to a serious reflection on why more of our life isn't that way.  The weariness of body and soul can find rest in a simple walk in the woods. 

In a week I return to Southern California and the more pressing work of our congregational life.  I am deeply thankful for the forests and the space they have provided me.  Even more thankful for the nature of my vocation that helps me step back and see not only the trees but the very leaves that give them life.

With Grace and Grit,  John