It took us a long time to find just the right house when we moved to Central Pennsylvania. Our poor realtor (the most patient man on earth) took me through at least 30 houses over a four or five-month period in no fewer than eight different towns and in all sorts of different neighborhoods. I’d given him a list of “essentials” that we had to have (a good kitchen space, room for two offices and a guest room, off-street parking, room for a cat to roam outside, a good basement and a dry lot) but it was amazing how many styles of homes fit the bill. We looked at colonials, contemporaries, saltboxes, split levels and ranches. We ended up in a wonderful post and beam house with all-wood interior (it has a cabiny feel to it) with two fireplaces, a sunroom and a deck. We knew as soon as we walked through the front door that we were home. But here’s the best part: there’s an acre of woods in the back.
The house is in a residential neighborhood a couple of miles outside of Mechanicsburg village. We have neighbors on our right and left, and across the street- it’s a development built in the 1980s. But… while all of our neighbors have groomed lawns behind their houses, ours is a big patch of woods. Wilderness. Or at least, “Suburban Wilderness.”
I’ve been working at my practice of meditation/centering prayer lately. In a life that is filled with appointments, meetings, books to read, sermons to write, emails to send and numerous conversations, the volume of words, thoughts and ideas can be very rich. Some weeks, it feels like eating a literary hot fudge sundae for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Words. Ideas. The Word of God. In order to address this, instead of filling my prayer time with more words, I’ve been working on finding quiet: seeking stillness of heart, body and soul, and just sitting. Sitting with God and being present. It’s a practice that takes discipline and is harder than you might think. It is a bit like entering the wilderness- the wilderness of not knowing, of vulnerability, and of possibility. With all of the chatter in our lives (even when it’s good chatter) it can be hard to slow down, settle down, and just “be. ”
And when we do slow down, settle down, and “be”- there are still thoughts. The discipline, of course, is to just “notice” our thoughts and feelings and to let them float away as we make space in the practice…and, in this wilderness of space, and of quiet, it is still amazing to me how much there is that comes: thoughts, words, textures, music, feelings.
In the wilderness of our backyard, there is a lot to see. There is an old groundhog who lives back there and who has dug tunnels in the out-cropping of rocks in the center of the woods. There is a clearing, just beyond the rocks, with long grasses that grow. It’s a great place for a fire pit, or a chicken coop or maybe even a shed for the donkey that I want to get. There is a pile of sticks- a giant pile of sticks- in the far corner of the lot that is the fruit of our son’s labor from a couple of summers ago when he got after the saplings that were blocking a small nature trail on the land, built by the last owners. There is a nesting pair of Cooper’s Hawks in the tree tops. There is a large thicket of black raspberry vines that yields a bountiful harvest in the summer (we share them with the birds) and a corner where I have transplanted some ramps that we brought home from a day digging in the woods with our friend Dan, up north. There’s a lot in this “wilderness.” Some of it is for harvesting (berries and ramps), some of it is for observing (hawks and groundhogs) and some of it is just there, because… that’s just what woods “are:” trees, roots, grasses, vines, moss and rocks. It is a wonderful, rich, peaceful place.
Kind of how I want my mind to be.
As we creep closer to Lent, I am thinking about wilderness. Jesus’ trip to the wilderness was challenging and rich. He emerged a different person than when he went in.
I’m wondering how to take the practice of meditation and allow its journey into the wilderness of my soul to deepen me, and to deepen my walk with God. Maybe the point is that, like our mostly un-curated back yard, the whole point of wild-derness is to let it be free and to see what comes.
Let’s see- what comes.