I’m not much of a church goer.--at least, not in the traditional sense. You see, every since I was held hostage as a child in a rock-hard pew listening to some preacher spew an hour of hellfire and damnation that scared “goodness “ and “salvation” into me every first Sunday, I have largely stayed away from the four-walls of worship. Not that I don’t find value in going there sometimes, but there’s something confining about it to me. I can’t seem to get my head around an omnipotent being confining itself to a single book, building or way of thinking.
People often mistake my avoidance and philosophy as a sure sign of my impending damnation to a not so nice place pain and torture. Drew hell-bound to Dante’s inferno. Not a pleasant thought.
I hold my spiritual beliefs largely close to vest as they are somewhat unconventional. People like labels. I tend not to. I was raised in the Black Baptist Church and with that background, which brought to me some wonderful things like a sense of community and history, there were some unsettling things like not asking questions of your maker and resigning oneself to whatever human fate, good, bad or otherwise that came— and to wait on something better in a paradise not promised. So technically, I suppose I am still Baptist. Some of it is rooted deeply in me like the taproot of an oak. But then, my branches have found other light, growing upward, outward, crookedly and circuitously. Kind of like my favorite tree, the Sycamore-all splotchy-barked and growing in wild places. For now I call myself a Zen- Methodist. I sometimes attend a United Methodist church that is as open-minded as I’ve known. My good friend Lane, a United Methodist Campus Minister says that I’m not required to check my brain at the door. I like that. I think my Creator meant for me to use it. A string of tattering prayer flags hangs across my backyard and I believe that Jesus and I would’ve gotten along well over a cold one. Wine-beer--where two or more gather right? I’d much rather share the suds with him than some blowhard Texas politician anyway.
Given my penchant for thinking about the unity of nature and divinity, some would call me an animist, an agnostic, an atheist or even a Wiccan. Whatever label anyone chooses to tag me with, I know this-- I do believe. In what you may ask, do you believe? Hmmmm…I choose to let that question dangle loosely. My brother says that his religion is governed by gravity and evolution. Neither he says, requires him to believe anything. All things fall and all living things evolve. Period. That he says, is the ultimate omnipotence. He has a point.
Today, as I ventured out to my Mother’s old Home Place to check on the Greenwood property and sit for a while in the pew/therapist chair that my deer stand frequently becomes, the colonnades of loblolly pines stretching to hold up the cerulean sky were wall enough for me. I helped build this sanctuary, selectively logging and managing it for sacred things like bobwhite quail and bobcats.
Though no other humans accompanied me today I was not alone. There were choristers that I’m certain Ms. Emily Dickinson would have admired. There were wrens and woodpeckers and thrushes and towhees. None of them wore robes or sang from sheets of music. No, instead they shouldered cloaks of feathers and chipped, whistled and warbled songs of evolved adoration to the air that gave them breath. Evidence of my brother’s faith in gravity was in full effect today too as I witnessed the power of 9.8m/sec2 (that's 32 feet/sec2 for you metric system backsliders). Several large pines, including one that I’d attached a ladder stand to, had fallen victim to a force that will have the final say with us all. Apparently a strong north wind had pronounced judgment day on several sylvan beings that had done nothing, other than be shallow rooted, to deserve such a fate. The weather giveth and the weather taketh away I suppose. I’m glad I wasn’t there when the wind’s rapture came for them.
I didn’t see any deer today but my faith in their being never faltered. There were signs, maybe divine, maybe not—of their presence—cloven tracks here, a greenbrier nipped neatly there.
Gray squirrels scurried about, collecting some sort of offering I think –acorns, hickory nuts and such, that they would share with no one. Is there such a thing as Sciurid sin? Do squirrels abide by any commandments other than –“Thou shalt not forget whither thou hidest the bounty” or “Thou shalt make the utmost effort to sound deer-like, lest the hunter shall be fooled”?
As the sun walked its way west around me, shining what must surely be holy rays of light on everything in the forest, my worries, frustrations, anger and sadness slowly ebbed away. The way the golden, afternoon light shifted between the trees and pulled the shadows with it, there was no question of something greater than me at work. Besides the squirrel that found and scolded me for my afternoon deer stand sloth, there was no judgment or damnation. A circling red-tailed hawk screamed praise to the uplift of unseen thermals and a flock of mourning doves peaceably found a feast to feed their multitudes amongst the broomsedge browned by the frost.
I sat there, twenty feet closer to heaven today by some folks reasoning. Maybe, but I’d like to think that I was already there--saved in the stand.