The Gathering

DSCN3534Many years ago I awoke and made ready for the day ahead. Spirits soared at the prospect of ascending the lofty ridge towering high above Glen Kingie. My heart leapt in anticipation of standing atop Sgurr Mor to survey the wild and piercingly beautiful handiwork that has emerged from the celestial crucible. A herd of deer leapt with me. Rugged mountains plunged breathlessly into the depths of shimmering sea lochs as the gulls swooped silently below my feet. From the sparkling, tumbling burn I could hear an orchestra of sound as sunlight shimmered and danced on its bustling surface to the ambrosial conductor’s quickening tempo. Isolation amidst raw beauty- wind; sun; rain; river; sea; mountain ridge; the silence of solitude. A time of rejuvenation; of communion with God; of self-discovery.

By the end of the week the silence felt louder than the shrieking winds that seemed to slice through rock itself. My senses were heightened- high mountain grasses thrust skywards like individual spears of rusty red and burnished gold; the cold and hunger made for unwelcome bedfellows; the imposing flanks of Sgurr Mor appeared as monstrous tidal waves looming through the gray and damp mists, threatening to engulf me as readily as the wild beauty was ready to consume me. I felt alive, joyful, and afraid in equal measure.

Following Ash Wednesday, we take those first tentative steps into the lenten journey. Each year as I look inwardly and outwardly, I am reminded again and again of that heady sensation of fear, of joy, and of life I experienced in the mountain wilderness. I bring on this path my successes and my failures, my joys and my sorrows. Every year that we gather we are each drawn, week by week, closer and closer, to our own high mountaintop and to the parapet of the Temple where we feel the tension as our own failings meet with the path Jesus has set out for us to follow. I am not yet ready to gaze upwards at that blood encrusted cross- but at this early stage of the journey I give thanks for the gift of life and the people in it with whom I share its glorious mysteries. And I thank God for the gift of the Church in holding love, grace and forgiveness as lanterns to guide us.

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Luke 4:11 NIV)

New leaves unfurling

This year, no set reading book for lent. No set daily prayer. No self appointed deprivation of creature comforts. Yet there has been a stripping back as never before, taking me down dark roads of suffering and reflection, bringing me face to face with Job himself.  Raw, painful as the faltering steps of my former self are stripped back and laid bare before my creator, room by room within the dwelling of the soul. Every blemish uncovered, every hurt exposed. As I stood in my garden staring at my former self I heard my friends the oyster-catchers cry the cry of the haunted, drawing my eye to the early buds of my glorious blossom tree. And I was reminded of Philip Larkin’s The Trees:

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In full grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

From The Collected Poems by Philip Larkin

We turn our eyes forward to the buds of spring; to things afresh, afresh; my heart beats, faster, faster and my soul lifts and soars like an eagle’s wings -with freedom and the joy of the promise of life renewing. Cherish the beauty of the past and wait for God’s grace to wash over me for the beauty of things to be. I know I am- we are all- given permission to begin afresh; to overcome the chaos; to live, to love, to embrace in the budding glory of the beauty of god’s creation. The waiting is nearly over. Close, oh so close.

Amen.