Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Irresisitble as Grace (Newsletter)


Irresistible as Grace
Over the last fifty years, the mountains of southern Appalachia have been a sanctuary for me. While I am more apt to explore them now with a camera, for a decade or more, I scoured maps and wandered back roads in search of high-country trout streams. Whether fishing or photographing, I find myself mesmerized by sunlight filtering down through a dense canopy of hardwoods and evergreens. Huddling close over cold, clear water and tumbles of smooth gray stones, the trees seem to be hiding secret treasures from those who would leave too much of self behind.
         Some twenty years ago, I set out one morning in search of water, trout, and solitude. From Little Switzerland, NC, I drove north on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain where I exited the Parkway. My car crunched and rattled along several miles of forest service roads to the upper reaches of a remote creek I saw on a map. I parked my car and got out. For a few minutes, I simply listened, and breathed.
Feeling welcomed by the forest, I began to rig my fly rod – a braided leader, tippet as thin as a strand of spider web, a tiny Adams parachute fly. I wrestled my feet into my wading shoes. Still wet from a previous excursion, they squished and wheezed like my nose does when I have a cold. I put on my vest which sagged and clattered with fishing gear, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a water bottle.
The trail I followed led me steeply downward but near the creek. It crossed a small feeder stream – in fact no wider than my stride, and in truth no deeper that my understanding of the Mystery of which I have been called to speak. Across the stream, the forest began to close in on me. Exactly where and when I could not say, but the trail had delivered me to the forest. I was no longer on a traveled path. I was simply alive in the midst of towering hickories, oaks, and tulip poplars. Above me, spruce and fir trees spread their dark boughs above the forest floor like priests pronouncing blessing and benediction upon the Earth.
I stopped and listened, but either the stream or the trail had turned. My ears rang with a silence as irresistible as grace. So, I pressed on, squeezing through rhododendron thickets I would otherwise have considered impervious, crawling over fallen trees that were spongy and damp with decay, following not the stream’s voice, but the promise it had whispered in my ear.
         How like that stream is God who goads us onward. How like God it is to lead us into the silences of Heaven where faith and hope are born. How like the twelve we often are when we slash and tear our way through creation, hell-bent on seeing and hearing only that which is familiar, and mindless of how grace comes newly born in fresh experiences.
         The well-marked paths on which our journeys begin deliver us to transfigured and transfiguring trails of deeper relationship and purpose. And there we learn new ways, new possibilities. In the midst of all the change and all the silence, take heart. The one who stirs us forward can be trusted.

*A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 1999 issue of "The Presbyterian Outlook."