Day 1: A Winter’s Retreat
The snow came while the world slumbered, and the people of central Kentucky had braced for the worst. Winter advisories warned of inches, perhaps five or six: an unusual accumulation this far south. Last year, an ice storm blanketed the region cracking limbs, killing power, and shutting down society for half a week. But five inches of snow, that would be an event of a decade.
So when I heard of the looming forecast that coinciding with a weekend where wife and child were visiting grandma, I hurried for the Kentucky woods to a familiar Catholic retreat center. With large decisions on our life’s horizon, these two days would be the perfect chance to breathe deep and listen to God’s leading…
Day 2: Anticipation of Snow
The day passes quickly as I read, and eat, and sleep some. I rest, no doubt, but my mind is mingled with struggle, to let my work and worries pass away in a cloud of forgetting and to come naked before my creator. This is not work for the faint hearted, coming to terms with hidden pride in places you would rather not look yet letting waves of mercy transform one’s easily disappointed heart. For many unwanted things can grow on the windows of one’s soul when the cares of life demand your concern. And though I have come here for clarity of direction, to wipe the window clean, what I find is the eyes of a living Mystery looking back at me and leading me into depths of faith unfathomed where I must go and leave my pre-packaged questions and answers behind.
Indeed the day of solitude quickly passes, and as night comes again I heed the primordial call to rest, having no idea of the oncoming gift that lies in store for me the next morning…
Day 3: Ice Ferns
Then, it hits me like a thousands rays of light: the clouds have passed, the sun has freshly awoken, and the frozen world gleams. I must get out among this wonder.
I practically jump into my wool and boots and pack my breakfast quickly. Before I know it, I too have become part of this magnificent morning. Perfectly deep blue skies grace this unfolding gift of a day as I walk into a vista that makes my jaw drop and spirit soar. A trillion trillion ice crystals have formed on the slumbering, leafless limbs of these woods. At closer look, each miniature crystal is like an ice fern with ten to twenty leaves. One branch hosts perhaps a hundred crystals perhaps a thousand, and before me the blazing morning sun reveals a whole frozen wood, a greatly frosted forest. Later, I learn they call this hoarfrost, where the temperatures dip more quickly than the trees, and the cold literally freezes the air vapors in millions of magnificent patterns.
On this one-decade day, I sit in awe of the detailed and careful artistry and know that in a few hours, all will melt. The aged dichotomies of science and faith fade from my mind; I see this intermingling world of wonder and precision and, Oh, how the Mystery must be rejoicing at this beautiful artistry. I alone will be its witness…
Day 3 Afternoon: A Winter’s Walk
As I loose myself in this grandeur, two panting breaths pull me back to earth. A golden lab and his younger and darker brother find their way through a thicket adjoining some neighbor’s house. Surprised, I wonder what disposition these hounds might bring to my morning. We acquaint, and our friendship sparks. Indeed, I will not be alone this morning to enjoy scenes left undiscovered.
The pathway calls me deeper, and though my toes and bones now feel the chill, I listen to the onward beckon. I quietly turn another corner. A flutter high above catches my eye. I look to my surprise and find two cardinals, deep in red, jumping through branches. Somehow, this sets my spirit ablaze in awe. Has any other man seen such beauty of cardinal upon perfect blue sky and among the whitest of branches? The dogs take little care, and as the birds flit off, I am caught up in sheer wonder.
A deep peace flows over my body and spirit as I think of yesterday’s reflection. My life’s future is unclear, and I have been fighting off a nagging apprehension, but now, in this moment, I am abandoned to this great Mystery who now seems so capable to lead me onwards. What kind of Creating Father would make a trillion trillion ice ferns for only one man and two dogs to see? Whatever the intricacies of this living God, I sense now that whatever may come, I will be cared for in a very careful way and that wherever my path will lead, those Mysterious eyes will be waiting not for me to seek His benefits, but that I would simply learn to cast to Him my love and receive His in return…
Day 4: Home Again
I leave my cabin now with bags packed, stuffed with wool, upon my shoulders. And the sun has turned the ice ferns into mist thus laying branches bare. The melt has begun, which will leave this countryside a brown and grey pre-Spring mud. I see clearly from this side of Friday that what I call my faith slips often and easily into anxiety and disappointment. Yet, something of this day now grows inside me convincing me just more that a great Mystery is closer than I often realize.
And like the slow unfolding journey of faith itself, I find myself renewed and just noticeably matured. I come to realize more that hope does not abandon us even in instances of apparent hopelessness, and that the storms about which we often fear the worst tend to become the very experiences that bring us ever upward into the image and presence of God. Onwards with resolve.
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