By Brett Hart
I am back from my morning walk with the dogs at Redbud Island, sitting now on the small deck by the pond in the quiet of this cool winter morning. I snapped the photo below just before the dogs jumped into the water making a mess of its mirrored surface.
I have come to understand that my morning walk with the dogs through the woods as well as my morning time of solitude and prayer on this deck are akin to manna. Each day that time is spent in the physical reality of these places takes me, for a time, out of the world of abstract ideas. It engages my senses. Theology becomes edible experience. But for all that, I can only eat the experiential manna of THIS morning. The only time to be in the forest is now. Yesterday’s woodland is gone from reality; present now only in the imperfect and abstract realm of memory. As reality, it has spoiled. Tomorrow’s wood does not yet exist but in abstract theory. The grounding experience of today’s wood must be collected and eaten today, or not at all.
And what has fallen from heaven today? Listen and look, drink it in. Blue jays standing guard and calling out a warning about something I cannot see from here, bright red cardinals hunting seeds among the fallen leaves, the quiet chortle of chickens confined to their run so that I can find their eggs, the dogs jumping from pretend naps to charge squirrels who believed the ruse, the song of a bird I have not heard before and cannot identify, the wan light of the oblique sun on dark pond surface littered with leaves, flashes of orange beneath.
What do these have to do with freedom, peace, grace, compassion, righteousness, justice? Everything!
The Spirituality of Muddy Boots
I cannot attempt to speak for God, or offer spiritual direction, to act with grace and compassion without my boots wet with the dew of a morning’s walk. I cannot live long in the rarified air of ideas, even such lofty ideas as hospitality, love, acceptance, forgiveness, and grace. I must be in daily touch with that which contains within itself the reality of God lest God, Himself, become merely another immaterial abstraction like all the other abstractions that cry for my attention. Without the daily meal of reality that falls gently just outside my door I lose touch with the reality of the people who fill my life. They too become abstractions to be weighed, measured, and sorted into abstract categories and I turn into a crusader for abstract causes instead of a lover of people. To embody the life of God, I require reality; dirt and water, breeze and light; the myriad sights, smells, sounds, and textures of creation.
I am reminded of something written by Thomas Merton.
The forms and individual characters of living and growing things, of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature, constitute their holiness in the sight of God.
Their inscape is their sanctity. It is the imprint of His wisdom and His reality in them. The special clumsy beauty of this particular colt on this day in this field under these clouds is a holiness consecrated to God by His own creative wisdom and it declares the glory of God.
The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this window are saints. The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of the road are saints looking up into the face of God.
This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength.
The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance.
The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints. There is no other like him. He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way. That is his sanctity.
But what about you? What about me?
Brett Hart — Pastor, spiritual director, cook, book binder, artist, chicken whisperer, and woodworker, Brett takes seriously Paul’s instruction to lead a quiet life and work with your hands. He calls his daily routine “suburban monasticism” and it is in the rhythm of silence, work, and community that Brett feels the breath of God.