Close to God in Nature

Lights on the Mountain: A Novel by Cheryl Anne TuggleThis week, I ran a giveaway on my Facebook page, featuring a novel called Lights on the Mountain (Paraclete Press 2019). My friend Cheryl Anne Tuggle wrote it, and it’s beautiful. To enter the giveaway, I asked people to comment with a time they’d felt close to God in nature. It’s a theme in the novel, beginning with an experience the main character has in the first chapter that changes his life. (Find out what and why! Get a copy here.)

The comments were beautiful! I don’t want them to scroll away into the land of yesterday’s news feed. So I’m gathering them up and sharing them here.

“Comment with a Time You Felt Close to God in Nature”

Sarah Frye Gingrich: It was one our last nights in Chile as missionaries, and we were camping on a local island with youth for a retreat. As night fell the bay began to glow where the lapping waves hit the shore. Bioluminescent plankton. We donned our suits and ran into the water, wherever we moved there was green light. I lay back and kicked through the light, staring up at bright stars against the endless black. I felt that God is both beyond and nearer than my breath.

Rebecca Stasia Braswell: Rain. Stick with me, a moment. I grew up in the San Joaquin valley in California, which produces about 80% of the country’s produce and goods on approx 12 inches of rain a year. I love, love, love rain. It still has that childlike marvel attached to it, even as an adult who sees a lot more rain. When thunder rolls and crashes, I’m reminded of a powerful, sovereign God that sends good to the just, and thankfully for me, to the unjust alike.

Nancy Athanasia Parcels: I was 15 years old and experiencing some pretty serious health issues, my family and I were in Greece. I was hiking in Crete on a mountain and came across this amazing view of the ocean. I sat down with the sun on my skin, wind in my hair and smelling the ocean. I was praying to God to heal me. I then sat there with my eyes closed just listening to nature. I felt a hand on my shoulder I turned and no one was there. I closed my eyes again and I am pretty sure I heard God tell me that everything was going to be alright. A few months later I was back in the States and with a clean bill of health.

I felt so close to God at that moment. I felt uplifted, loved and beyond grateful for this life.

Christine Rogers: The Northern Lights!

Elina Pelikan: My youth living by the sea.. sweatshirt and jeans and a journal on a cliff alone with the enormity of the ocean… sometimes I would bring my guitar and belt the church songs into the wind and waves…. sometimes I would just sit and scribble nonsense and breathe in the salty air and seaspray.

I love to soak in His presence in a beautiful church, but sitting with Him in a forest or by the water brings another experience that is rich and nourishing.

Christina Bournelis Blankenstein: Anytime that I’m at the Oregon coast- especially if I wake up early enough in the morning and I’m at scout camp. So, surrounded by trees,looking out at the ocean. I feel as if I have entered a small piece of the heavenly kingdom!

Sian Williams: I live close enough to the sea to be able to hear the crash of waves at high tide on a quiet still night if I go outside. Always moves me to tears and to prayer.

Sarah Brangwynne: Gardening and Spring. I am always amazed at the beauty of trees and plants coming to life after a period of dormancy and looking pretty dead all winter.

Rachel Stevens: My grandparents own 20 acres in VA. On that 20 acres they have a pond. As a teenager I sit on a concrete bench next to the pond with a journal in hand. I also loved riding their horse around alone too. So peaceful and easy to pray 🙂

Abby Kreckel: As a teenager, I would sneak into my empty but unlocked childhood parish and sit on the floor in the dark, singing hymns and hearing them echo around the dark space.

Katherine Bolger Hyde: At the first Orthodox Writers Week at the Beach, I walked on the beach each morning and was filled with a holy joy. This is only one of many times I have felt close to God in nature. “The world is shot through with the grandeur of God” (G. M. Hopkins).

Kristina Michelle: Nature has been a huge part of my life. I was fortunate that my parents made sure we were out and about in the forest every week. One summer I drove an hour each way on the prairie every day for work. That consistent, great amount of time watching the prairie and listening to Christian music (I’d never even heard of Orthodoxy at that point!) created a deep peace throughout the entire summer.

Vassi M Haros: I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was just a kid… staring at the clouds as they floated by. It was so peaceful to not be aware or influenced by the people or things around me. It was just me and God.

Sandra Glisic: The time that I felt most close to God in nature was one spring day where I picked up a book and sat on the grass by the lake on monastery grounds to read. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to my book because the picture in front of me was truly a book on its own. The birds were chirping, the water peacefully moving, the trees rustled from the wind, flowers were slowly growing and the wind brought freshness into everything including me. I realized at that moment what it means for life to renew and resurrect and I realized at that moment how wonderful God truly is and how amazing are all the things He created. And most of all, how amazing was it that He blesses us all with that and me in that moment.

Anastasia Dimassis-Benbow: Not one specific time… But every time I’m going through something, and I realize I haven’t touched God’s “home plate“ in a while, I sit by the water. I close my eyes and feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and the sound of the shore. I can literally feel God wrap his arms around me, and I leave with a renewed sense of strength, love, and pure hope. ❤️

 

Photo by Greg Nunes on Unsplash

First Best Christmas Memory

Candles lit behind a small white house ornament and a pinecone on a table

Mine is the year I played Archangel Gabriel in the neighborhood Christmas Tableaux my mother hosted in our livingroom. I wore the flower-girl dress from her wedding – it was long and white, sleeveless, with a band of gold ribbon around the empire waist and daisies on the bodice and in a strip around the hem. My halo was a scratchy golden band of decorative fabric trim, and my mother made a sheer lemon yellow cape with holes for my hands to slip through that I wore like wings. I remember being coached to hold up my arms when I appeared to Mary, who wore my mother’s blue house coat and a soft white scarf on her little red head. She sat on the flagstone floor of the front hall, stirring imaginary bread dough with a wooden spoon in a ceramic bowl, and I came down the front stairs to appear before her. Our friends took the parts of Joseph, the shepherds, and the wisemen, and my baby doll played the most important role of all, wrapped in a white sheet and sleeping gently on a bed of hay in the wicker laundry basket.

Christmas memories have been part of my writing life this year as I finish work on The Barn and the Book, the next in the Sam and Saucer series. It’s a Christmas story about a boy named Sam, his corgi friend Saucer, some nuns, and the children who play together at the monastery after church. Sam is hunting a Christmas memory of a kind in this story, and as I look forward to the book’s release this fall, I decided to ask some friends about their childhood Christmases.

What is your first best Christmas memory?

That was the question, and the answers were as various and colorful as the people I asked. Although the usual themes appear – family, food, wishes – there’s a plot twist in every one of these stories. I love to be reminded that all of life is unexpected, complex, personal, and interesting.

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“I remember my Mom bringing my new baby brother home in a Christmas stocking. ” – Adriane Adams

“I remember most of my 2nd Christmas morning. I remember coming downstairs. I remember discovering presents and my parents’ excitement.” – Elizabeth Calder

“I was the Star of Bethlehem in the Christmas pageant when I was ~5ish. I shone. I beamed. (The big kids and my older sisters got to be the angel choir, because they could read lyrics, and at first I was jealous of them.) Proudest moment of my first 10 years.” – Cynthia Long

“The Anglicans have a tradition of starting Christmas Eve with “Once in Royal David’s City,” with the first verse being sung solo by a boy soprano/treble. When I finally got the chance to do it, that was a real highlight.” – Jonathan Hill, Orthodox Theology of the Beautiful

I was adopted at Christmas, brought home on Christmas Eve when my older sisters were sleeping. My parents put me in a little Moses basket type thing under the tree. My middle sister spent the next many months at least ABSOLUTELY BELIEVING that Santa had granted her wish and brought a baby sister JUST for her! Obviously, I don’t remember this actually happening, but my family still breaks out the picture and story every year.” – Maria Powell

“Christmas for me always meant my dad taking my brother and I to ToysR’Us. He was (still is) a workaholic, and while he loved us very much, he missed a lot. But on that evening, he would go, and we would walk up and down. Every. Aisle. And he had this big yellow legal pad, and he’d write down Every Single Item we said we liked or that we wanted (along with the price). It sounds materialistic, but this was uninterrupted time with our dad, where we could talk about our likes and dislikes, and our interests. Afterwards, we would sit and write out stars (or sometimes lots of stars) next to things we wanted the most, or cross items off we decided we didn’t really want. We never got everything (I can only imagine what that would have cost! Ha!), but that time is very cherished. I don’t know that that is my earliest memory, but it is my strongest Christmas memory. I have other flashes of memories of going to my grandparents’ across the state, or big potluck dinners with extended family that I didn’t really know (There were always Swedish Meatballs! We have a strong Scandinavian heritage.), and I remember the person who hosted those had swinging doors into her kitchen like an old wild west saloon, and I thought that was pretty spectacular. I remember it was my “job” to put up the nativity display, and how seriously I took that. And I remember making cookies out of our old Swedish cookbook. But mostly, I looked forward to that time with my Dad.” – Kira Miller

My mom making waffle sundaes and huevos rancheros on Christmas morning with tamales from a relative on the table, too. I make these things now for my kids, and it means even more after fasting!” – Jessica Archuleta, Every Home a Monastery

“We were at a GIANT family party, and my brothers and two male cousins locked me in a closet, and nobody noticed until I wasn’t there to open gifts. It all ended well! My brothers and cousins had to give me their candy.” – Melissa Elizabeth Naasko

“My earliest Christmas memory is my first memory, period. It is not in English. It was my first Christmas in Guatemala, where my parents were Mennonite missionaries. I would have just turned 3. We invited our friends (and my parents’ house/grounds helpers) Pablo and Erxlinda and their little son Julio to join us. We were eating fresh corn tortillas, called “gua” in Q’eqchi’, the Mayan dialect of the region. (Incidentally, “gua” doubles as the word for food, “gua’ac'” is the verb “to eat,” and if some day you haven’t had “gua,” that is, tortillas, you haven’t eaten at all regardless of what else you’ve eaten that day. Corn is very important to the diet of the region, especially corn tortillas. But I digress…)

My memory is of my parents asking Julio (I think he was 1.5 or 2 at the time) if his “gua” was good (“Ma’ sa li gua?”) to which he answered a hearty and enthusiastic, “Sa, PUES!” (of COURSE it’s good!) And everyone laughed.

So yeah, my memory has nothing to do with Christmas or Christ’s birth, but all the same, I’m delighted that it is my first memory. I was so very blessed to be allowed to grow up in a convergence of cultures, and although my Q’eqchi’ is dormant (it comes back to life when I’m in Guatemala again for a few days), I’m so very glad that my first memory is in that language. ” – Kristina Wenger

“When I was 5 my older brother ruined the secret of Santa for me on Christmas Eve. So my dad started a new tradition of me getting a surprise gift from Elvis instead.” Jill Wojslaw, @TheseParents

“My Aunt Jesse sending us a big box of See’s candy from Pasadena, California each year. We would sneak into it and eat a candy each day, take out the tell-tale wrapper, and wrap up the box again. By Christmas, the 5-pound box of candies probably weighed about a pound.” – Cheri Mullins

“My dad died when I was young, leaving my mom with 5 kids under 7. It was always a struggle financially, but one Christmas, the living room was filled with bicycles – one for each of us! We saw my mom wheeling them over on Christmas Eve – my neighbor stored them in his garage.” – Matushka Wendy

I remember as a very young girl, going to bed that evening: no tree up yet, no cookies in sight, nothing near ‘Christmas’ ready; when we woke, early the next morning, there would be the tree! the lights! the neatly wrapped presents! cookies! and the aroma of coffee brewing! Amid the torn wrapping paper, we’d play for hours with our new dolls, blocks, and games; our mom always took a nap on the couch nearby. As I got older, my mother’s amazing Christmas cutout (anise) cookie recipe with the royal icing and all were handed down to me; now years later, that recipe is handed down to my 2 daughters. They know how to make them as well as my mother and I once did together. We make so many for gifts to share for our neighbors and friends; family. This year we had a slight emergency with our youngest boy; I was just about to make these cookies (they’re time consuming, too) when an accident happened at home that sent us straight to the emergency room; resulted in a 3-day stay in the hospital. My husband and I brought our boy home Christmas eve; the house was clean and cookies all baked and decorated! Of course, I cried.” – Kelleylynn Barberg

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Next time you’re sitting in traffic, choosing apples at the farmer’s market, or waiting for hours at the DMV, look at the people around you and realize anew that every one of them holds a full set of memories, as you do, and a story full of plot twists. Each of us is a mystery. Glory to God!

 

-Photo by Sweta Meininger on Unsplash

Memories of God

When you convert to a new faith, you leave everything behind. You are not a refugee, with $200 and two pieces of luggage. You weren’t forced to leave a country you love. You chose to leave a country you could no longer love. You are gone.

No doubt, everyone’s conversion is different. Life has taught me, in hundreds of big and little ways, that people are like snowflakes – there really are not EVER any two exactly alike. So I won’t speak for your conversion, or their conversion, or any other conversion but mine.

Conversion never ends. At first, it’s a decision. There’s a long road to the decision, and a long road away from it. You can’t see ahead on this road. You can only see the two footprint-sized parts of the road you are standing on right now, this minute.

My piece of road right now is about memories. Hymn fragments, remembered feelings. I thought I had left everything behind, and at first, this was true. But life flowed on around and through me, and now I discover the pieces of my faith that belonged to me then and are still with me now.

Is this possible? If it is, it has nothing to do with dogma or canon. It’s the fact that God does not wait for us to check the right box and join the right group before He decides to get in touch.

Was He always there? I remember asking my priest, after my conversion, “Who am I talking to when I pray now? Is it still the same God I was talking to before?” I wasn’t sure then, but now, I am.

Sometimes, time is like water. You wash something in this water, and it comes clear. At first, I didn’t want to love anything from my pre-Orthodox spiritual life. I was too concerned with building this new faith life, and I didn’t want to contaminate it.

But now, time has washed my heart, and I can see patches of gold in those old shadows. My longing for them now is not unlike my need for them then. They can still belong to me. They can still comfort me.

Wherever I find it, light is light.

 

-Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash

Already Lost

I’m thinking about loss tonight.

I’ve noticed something unexpected that happens when I think about grief, or losing a loved one. In the last few months, my next thought after a sad thought is, “But think of what you’ve already lost.”

Think of all the time that is already gone, all the memories that are already memories, all the little daily truths that were a comfort or a joy and are gone now, left behind with passing time, or brokenness, or growth. Think of what you’ve already lost. Why is this idea what comes to help me? Continue reading

The Eternal Life of Objects

Book of Tennyson poems on old wooden dresser

The connection between material objects and time fascinates me. Things can transcend time. They are more eternal than people, in one sense. For example, I recently found on our shelves a 1942 edition of the “Song and Service Book for Ship and Field: Army and Navy.” It’s still here, thousands of miles from the city where it was published, transcending who knows what dangers, surrounded perhaps by death on every side. Human death. And yet, it’s still here.

Continue reading

Walking Down the Drive

Once upon a time, when I was little, I went outdoors on a summer afternoon. I walked down the long driveway, from the backdoor of our yellow house, past the garden and the swingset, toward the garage. As I walked, I heard my own voice inside my head, telling the story of what I was doing. I knew the story stretched back to my beginning, and that I was just noticing it, not beginning it. I knew the story was happening still, and that it would keep on happening, as long as I kept on telling it. Continue reading

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Blue ocean water showing a small wave

Three years ago, we said goodbye to the Navy. If someone were to ask, “What’s it like, being a military family?”, I’d say, “The most lasting of my memories is the way that good things and hard things were so completely welded to each other. Being proud, being lonely, laughing hysterically, crying inconsolably, loving a place and wanting to leave it, missing a time you wouldn’t want to live through again. It changed everything, sometimes at high cost. But I would do it again, in a heartbeat.”

-Photo by Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash

Memorial Day

Anchor recovered from the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

Anchor recovered from the USS Arizona at Pearl HarborIt’s about to be Memorial Day again. Remembering time. Truth is, what we have to remember is more than we can handle. People die, in a war, and that’s already too much to grasp. But there are other casualties. Hundreds of them, for every soldier, on both sides. These casualties seem small, and they sometimes fly past so quickly that there’s no time to name them. But the empty places left by these small deaths remain, and there will be years and years to feel the loss, after it’s too late to prevent it. Continue reading

Aunt Nadia’s House and “Sea Fever”

Memory works two ways for me. Sometimes, it’s linear. I remember a specific event and its context, and I’m sure both are plain facts. Sometimes, it’s associative. I remember things connectedly, and the power of association may overcome aspects of the original history.

This poem, “Sea Fever” by John Masefield, is strongly connected in my memory with my great Aunt Nadia’s house in Rockport, MA. The house was 300+ years old in parts, and a “witch” lived in the oldest room when it was a raw wooden cabin in the woods. I wonder about her. Continue reading