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Walking into the world
The mission of The Sage Forum is to encourage, equip, and empower women over 40 to mature in faith and grow in wisdom. We send out a newsletter at the beginning of each month focusing on a different theme relevant to women in the second half of life. Our August theme will be nature, conservation, and the environment.
The Sage Forum Extra! is a short mid-month reflection meant to offer you a word of encouragement. Today’s Extra! is penned by Sage Forum contributor Carole Duff.
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God? —Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)
I hear the sharp “whoosh” of air expelled through a deer’s nostrils, the whitetail’s alarm. A doe, heading for the stream below, leaps across the road in front of me and the pup. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. Life is simpler and more spacious in the Blue Ridge Mountains, mystical and close to God. But meeting with God—what I call “Godtime”—is like walking near the edge, not for those resisting change.
The rhythmic crunch of gravel under the soles of my worn trail shoes sets the tempo of our hike down the mile-long mountain road. On leash, Cato adjusts his wide gait to my pace. He is a lean, two-year-old hound-shepherd mix, an adolescent in training to become a fine household dog. My husband and I, on the other hand, are in our third stage of life and have retreated to the forest.
I listen for the rustle of leaves—poplars, oaks, maples, sassafras, staghorn sumac, Paulownia, sycamore—the gurgling stream, squirrels and lizards scurrying, blue jay jeers, chickadee calls, red-tailed hawk whistles, the drumming tattoo of pileated woodpeckers foraging for insects in dead or dying trees. Nothing is permanent, nothing lasts. Why not delight in this world God created for us before we must leave?
As Cato and I move through sunlight and shadow, navigating the road’s curves and switchbacks, my listening turns inward. Our children tend their own households now, while my husband and I have slipped the first-half-of-life’s vanities: wealth, success, and prominence. Quiet forest living is attuned to the present and the inner journey.
The road straightens at the bottom of the mountain and opens into a lush valley teeming with meadow life, the place where the pup and I often see death: a hawk scooping up a black snake, toads crushed on the road, an Eastern box turtle gutted. Cato sniffs out a deer’s femur along the roadside. Leave it, I say. Valley-walking can lead to suffering, which I now view with gratitude. Only when exposed to the shadow of death am I able to love the world—all of it.
Passing the old gateposts, we descend to the mailboxes. Three fawns at forest edge graze and cavort. The pup and I halt. He barks and jumps, straining at his leash and collar. Leave it, I say again. Curbs and corrections, like the shepherd’s rod and staff, remind us of our training. When the fawns leap and gallop into the forest, I reward the pup with praise and offer a smelly, salmon-flavored treat from the canvas bag slung over my shoulder. Law and Gospel, like the Master’s. Cato sits in obedience, leans his muzzle toward my hand, and takes the soft morsel in his teeth.
After tucking mail into my shoulder bag, I head back up the mountain, the pup at my side. How blessed I am to have lived into my third stage of life and to experience this spiritual retreat. But there are risks in choosing self-knowledge: foot-slips, humiliations, embarrassing confrontations with oneself, and above all the temptation to disavow the choice and cling to the values of this world, settling into a comfortable living death separate from God.
The road grade increases, and my stride shortens, huffs punctuating each step. Rhythmic crunching under my shoes slows then stops. Cato waits for me to catch my breath, while I wait for my heart rate to calm. The steeper the climb, the deeper the commitment, and the greater the thirst. Near the top, at the foot of our property, I unclip both training collar and leash so the pup can run our property. He will be home soon, and I have neighbors to check on.
“It was not for me to leave the world and retire to a cloister, but to live in the world and love the objects of the world, not indeed for themselves, but for the Infinite that is in them,” W. Somerset Maugham wrote in The Razor’s Edge. And, as Bill Murray’s character Larry Darrell said in the 1984 movie, “It's easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain.”
Because walking the edge guides me toward the Infinite in ways that “easy” does not, I will traverse the mountain road again tomorrow. I will go and meet with God in His creation. I will embrace the third stage of life and share that holy wisdom with others.
Thank you, Lord, for the beauty of your creation, for creatures great and small, for streams of living water to quench our thirst. May your Spirit guide our steps until the day you call us home. Amen.
For further reflection, the next time you take a walk, ponder where it is that God might be calling you to walk the edge into this world.
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