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    Fidelia Bridges, Trailing Arbutus, 1863

    Into the Wind

    A young storm chaser encounters God, who doesn’t have a long white beard.

    By Maureen Swinger

    March 11, 2023
    • J. Hayes

      This. I have no words. But/and this captures so well my regular 'communion' time with God. The dappled early morning sunlight on my suburb’s trees, as I set out for my daily run. The contoured perfection that is the purple/pink/orange sunset. The twinkling stars when I slip outside just to gaze at them/God before I go to sleep. This experience is heaven. This experience is 'Zoe' LIFE. This is experiencing God. Maureen has a gift with words Thankyou. Thankyou God.

    • Liesel Gasse

      Maybe I was running under the oaks in the same storm! This is a beautiful article! I think one of the best gifts I can give my kids is wonder and awe at the amazing creation we inhabit. There's so many moments of beauty, if our eyes are attuned to see.

    • Rosemary Saunders

      What a beautiful description of an encounter with the Lord in His creation. I can identify so much with the Maureen's article. God is seen in all He has created. The Creator wants to be seen by His creatures. He is seen in the spectacular of rainbows and sunsets; crashing waves and breathtaking dawns. I so long to see more of Him; to have my eyes opened more and more to His glory; to see Him in the small things; the everyday ordinary that speak of His greatness.

    • Meg Loewenthal

      Thank you. I take my elderly parents every year to find the blooming trailing arbutus. Sometimes easy to find, sometimes harder. Beaulifully written. I was with you running beneath the soughing sound of the pine trees, a word I learned from my dad.

    • Katherine Trotter

      What beautiful descriptions!! They brought me to tears. Encounters with God always brings me to tears and fills me with hope.

    • Terry Lovelette

      Thank you, Maureen. A beautiful article! Your words resonate with me and I find myself welcomed by that Grace regularly. If, I let myself become available. We live in a beautiful place! Thoughts from a walk… Shadows The human world in a chase Scattered opinions Echo chambers of judgement Impulsive madness Stewing in a cauldron of irrational logic A virus of the soul Far from the bustling pace Out there in the quiet woods Sunshine bounces through the trees A thousand shadows cast Prismatic reflections sparkle in the snow They dance to a joyful tune Heard deeply within A glorious beat The reverberations of silence Something wondrous works A peaceful rhythm It begins in the solitude In the company of the forest Wild places lend a cure Slowly the noise abates Serenity opens a gate Equanimity fills the space Authentic wisdom flows Whispered softly It brings the gift of Grace

    • Shirley Cooke

      So well shared Maureen. I recognise this experience in my own life and am so blessed and excited to find it written about so beautifully. Especially as the experience itself almost defies any effort to describe it in words. Praying the the Lord continues to reveal Himself to you in these intimate encounters as the Holy Spirit continues to move the veil when and where God chooses.

    It was one of those wild, wet March blusters in the Allegheny Mountains, with weighted clouds skimming the rim of our valley, and the trees on both sides almost leaping up to join the winds’ flight. Sane folk were inside with a book and a cup of something cozy, which I suppose made me … not sane. It was a few days before my eleventh birthday and the best present I could imagine was the choice of one ridge or the other: should I run under the high roar of the big oaks, with the last of their dried leaves spinning overhead, or the deeper soughing of the hemlocks bowing to the storm?

    The hemlocks’ call won out, and I scrambled up the muddy bank and raced between the dark trunks whose low, wet branches seemed to push me on rather than reach to hold me back.

    They wanted me to find a tiny, moss-green clearing, one I’d never seen before and never would find again. Between two fallen logs, also carpeted with moss, a rarer discovery: the tiny stars of trailing arbutus, blossoming early and safe below the wind’s touch.

    And there it was – the flash.

    I had never found words to describe that jolt of beauty so piercing that it hurts, when everything turns silver for the briefest of instants, as if heaven overlaid the earth for a moment and then lifted before I could take a breath.

    It was Lucy Maud Montgomery who defined it, as I discovered some months later on a winter evening spent curled up on the sofa with Emily of New Moon:

    And then, for one glorious, supreme moment, came “the flash.”

    Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn’t exactly describe it. It couldn’t be described – not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke of it to anyone else.

    It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside – but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond – only a glimpse – and heard a note of unearthly music.

    This moment came rarely – went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it – never summon it – never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days.

    Although Emily also finds that words fall short, even her attempt at them brought on another flash for me: for if Emily, then Lucy Maud Montgomery. A distant “kindred spirit” had encountered that light, come as close as she could to naming it, and given it to her storybook girl. How many others must know this feeling of walking away wordless, with your soul lifted to the sky?

    My mother must have known it too, even as her responsibilities more often than not kept her home. Instead of heeding the siren call of keening treetop winds herself, she would let her eldest child and only daughter – who surely could have been more productive helping out at home – go roaming alone, communing with the storm. It was she who introduced me to George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind, and the Gray Lady’s first invitation to Diamond: “I am big enough to show you the way, anyhow. But if you won’t come, why, you must stay.”

    It may have been the North Wind I was going out to meet, but when everything was roaring and swishing around me, I began to get the feeling it was not so much the wind talking as the one who made all winds.

    Fidelia Bridges, Trailing Arbutus, 1863

    Fidelia Bridges, Trailing Arbutus, 1863

    The woods brought me to the closest early understanding of God as not only a creator, but also a father. He reached down with the wind and I reached up with the trees, losing myself in the power. This sense of belonging was so great that I could picture him, outlined as a man, if a man could fill the universe. His shape was shot through with all the colors he had ever created. A galaxy spiraled around his head, too bright to let his face be seen. Waterfalls flowed over his shoulder, the winds blew where his fingers pointed, but his feet were on our earth, down among the earliest flowers of spring.

    The first rendered representation of God I ever saw was Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam, and I was offended on his behalf – “He’s not an old man!” But when our class memorized James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation,” my heart jumped at the description of God shaping the earth – “That’s him!”

    Then God himself stepped down –
    And the sun was on his right hand,
    And the moon was on his left;
    The stars were clustered about his head,
    And the earth was under his feet.
    And God walked, and where he trod
    His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
    And bulged the mountains up.

    Again, while paging through Psalms – I was not a faithful Bible reader, except for the Psalms – that blaze of recognition:

    The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
    The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.

    —Psalm 29

    The flash comes more rarely now – I suppose I don’t go out to meet it as often as I did in childhood. But even if I did, I can’t force an encounter, or retrace footsteps in the hope of another visitation in the same place. As I learned with the arbutus, sometimes I can’t even find the same place. But the possibility is always there, running like quicksilver just below the surface of a familiar landscape.

    Last November it left me speechless again, when under a soot-gray cloud bank, the evening sun slanted in the thinnest of bands, alighting on one small tree. The branches seemed perfectly bare except for their outermost twigs – each held a starling, black with that slight iridescent shimmer. Waiting for the south to call them on, the birds seemed a circle of momentary leaves. In a silent second, they took off all at once, holding their circle in the air, while behind them the sun picked out a ring of golden leaves, one on the outer tip of each branch. It was as if the leaf shadows had blown away. On my way home from work, my mind on mundanities, I looked up just in time to see it.

    The wind was blowing, and the world again seemed wild with promise.

    Contributed By MaureenSwinger Maureen Swinger

    Maureen Swinger is a senior editor at Plough and lives at the Fox Hill Bruderhof in Walden, New York.

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