Posted on May 28, 2022 by Jenn Zatopek
I wrote a well-written essay two years ago and stalled out on publishing it here on my blog. Why, you ask? It was not chosen for publication at several online magazines I submitted it to, and I felt ashamed of it. Why am I publishing it now? Because we need to honor our gifts and do the opposite of our shame and fear! It’s never to late to put your work out there, even if it’s a few years late!
I wrote this essay about a month before the Covid-19 pandemic swept through our land, writing away in my tiny windowless office at the university I worked at. I hope you enjoy this blast from my past and that you take time to share your wondrous art with the world!
On the cusp of spring, I attended a small women’s retreat in a neighboring county. Nestled in a hilly suburban neighborhood, the parkland spans over 600 acres of fertile woods and prairies in the middle of the ever-expanding Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Upon arrival, I prayed for courage and left my car, joining the other women at the small clearing on the far side of the woods. All had welcoming smiles for me, and I was again surprised, dismayed, and relieved that my lively imagination—while trying its best to help me cope by envisioning the worst—was (thankfully) wrong again.
After introductions, we paired up in dyads to pronounce blessings over each other. Our retreat leader encouraged us to trust the promptings of the Divine as we gazed into the eyes of another and use our words to heal and soothe. Truthfully, we were unprepared, but isn’t that how much of our life experiences come to us? We carefully plan and take charge, but life happens and we are thrown off course by new experiences as our expectations are obliterated. How do we go with the unexpected?
I invoked tears in both women but with my second partner, I viscerally sensed her presence near me while I waited with eyes screwed shut. Asking God for help and relaxing into my intuition, I spoke words of peace and truth over my partners, the blessings spilling forth in haltingly nervous yet hopeful speech.
The experience was powerful for all of us because we stepped into the flow of Love for the other. We felt seen by the other and responded with kindness rather than criticism as so often happens in our modern world. What would life be like if we stopped talking carelessly with others and simply listened to our intuition before speaking instead? What would it be like if we measured our words for blessings and encouragement instead of judgements or words which diminish the experience of others?
After the blessings, our guide facilitated a solo walk through the park. Our work was to find a comfortable spot in the park and stay still for at least twenty minutes, becoming one with the land. Our guide rang a Nepalese singing bowl to begin the journey, and slowly we made our way down the gravel path through the forest for an adventure in gathering our lost selves.
As a frequent hiker at this park, I am quite familiar with the trails, but I never walked them with such rapt attention and delicate care. My desire was to sit inside the forest but another part longed for the open prairie. Recognizing an old pattern to do what I think I should do rather than what I want, I headed back out of the wooded area and climbed onto the open prairie, settling down for stillness.
Dear reader, it was as if I had walked into another world. The sun shone down on the pale golden prairie grass and the cedar trees in the distance waved in friendly greeting as the wind blew gently. Cerulean blue sky smiled down at me, and I felt it hard pressed not to smile in return. It was glorious, nature in all its stunning array, and my engagement with the natural world created such joy and liveliness within me I couldn’t help but smile in elation. Truthfully, I felt embraced and remembered the poet Rumi’s love for the outdoors too: “Spring is Christ / raising martyred plants from their shrouds.”
After returning to the circle, we shared our encounters with one another, of wanting to leave behind old ways of being that hurt and embrace new ways that fill us with goodness and light, laughter and joy. My experience in nature does not take away the hard things in life, the loneliness inherent in the human condition, or the losses I have endured that weigh my heart down with grief, but it did something very special.
Being outside on a beautiful day in nature reminded me this retreat experience and my hope are resources within me that I can always call upon. It’s even useful when I return, again and again, to my dreary windowless office at the university, a source of ongoing contention and prayer. Simply leaving the office, I can return to the rolling green meadow behind the building and walk slowly around, marveling at nature’s warm embrace. For me, time in nature is a direct gateway to God, available and engaged even as I carry on throughout my day.
This is the Christ I encountered outdoors, the God who set my heart on fire over twenty years ago when I first took the host at Father Bob’s tiny parish at the local Episcopalian church on the south side of our town. We read in the Bible that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15; NIV). Is the Divine present in the flitting birds and fertile green grass, the brilliant blue sky and the deepening green leaves of stately trees, teaching us how to bless others through our intuitions and creation?
I leave only my experience for you to judge, but please, make sure you take off your shoes and read this essay outside as the wind tousles your hair and the sun peaks out of the clouds. Right here and now is your own encounter with The Holy, to mine the depths of your life for blessings. Your life, like mine, shows hope, beauty, and myriad possibilities amid challenges too. You only have to glance back and look for the God who speaks in wind and trees to trust that you belong here too.
Image: Texas Hill Country, Jenn Zatopek