Worship in the Wilds

This is a paper I wrote for Persuasive Writing class in Westminster Term of my sophomore year. It’s about the false dichotomy between the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture.


I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

-Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Windhover—To Christ our Lord

Have you heard, child? The snow melts and the rocks are naked and the earth begins to smell again. The trees flower, and the conductor of the birds takes up his baton again. A cockamamie color stains the hills. The moss is back from wherever it disappeared to, and the ferns are shooting up.

We have heard the rumors, and we are sick of books. We try to work, but we can’t ignore the whispering for long. She’s whispering to us with the rain. I’m reading next to the window and she reaches a thin arm and turns my chin away from my book and toward the world beyond. Now she is a solemn girl in a gray frock, but her teeth are pointed when she smiles. She patters on the windows and tells us that carnivál is coming. She will paint herself green and gold, with a ring of crocus around her neck and hyacinths in her hair.

We can’t escape spring, she coaxes too sweetly. She lures us out into the wild, because she is a handmaiden and a serving girl to the Ruler of that place. Wilson has been out here longer than any of us. He is the leader when we hear a bear, startle a rattlesnake, or lose our way. Zach goes off on his own when we are in the woods. His thoughts resonate best when he lets the trees frame the questions. Tali tries to bring the wilds back with her. One hand, one level of her thought, is always fidgeting for them. She pulls us back to them whenever she can, because they’ve captured her soul. She’s a handmaiden, too, and now the spring rains tempt us all together. I remember, a year ago, when we first succumbed.

The Mountain — Spring in the wilds is fresh, piney venom. When I first smelled it in the air, the mountain captained my thoughts. The gradual slope to the mountain’s rounded cap was white even in mid-May. The girl in the gray frock was a lavish pusher, and the rain was her fix. She had hooked me by then. She was raining wisdom on me all that spring.

Finals were done, and we escaped. We took the Jeep out of town, down gravel ribbons into the woods and then out and above them. The pastures on the foothills were flying spring’s brilliant ensign. We stopped to make friends with a few horses on our way up. They were content, despite the rain and puddles, because their grass was young and inexhaustible. On the mountain, there was gasping snow. It was wet, heavy, tired, and dirty, waiting exhaustedly for the sun to rapture it up and fling it on some foreign land in transfigured form.

The snow kept us from continuing up. The mountain was still fermenting fresh liqueur in its snowy casket, and we would have to return when it was brewed. Besides, our lady was calling to us from somewhere else, behind drizzled veils, and we were faithful knights errant. So we quested farther afield, exploring spring’s new kingdom in fields and forests.

Kamiak Butte –A massive tree had fallen, and we climbed it sideways, pretending that we were daredevils. We watched the sun and the clouds dance as we ascended the trail. It was steep and slippery. Below us after each turn lay the Palouse, God’s bumpy golf course. At the top, where the rocks had broken through the mountain-skin, we sat and talked about the changedness of things.

At Kamiak, I realized that I did not have to choose between learning from books and learning from the wilds. Nothing I learned was true unless I found it both in books and in the forest. The mountain and the butte helped me to take the words in my mind, in long strings from when I had read them, and draw them out and lay them down in the earth. The things I learned worked in the wilds. I could worship there. The trees and the river were a church just like mine, and the bark was a new braille full of wisdom. The girl in the gray dress stood behind a tree and smiled as I thought these things through.

It has been a year since I learned. I learned to heed the rain’s whispers and walk out among them and worship in the wilds. But I don’t understand the God of the wilderness like I thought. The more I grasp at His meaning, the more it slips away. Why? I can only go out again into the pines and try to find an answer. I am learning to be an old soul. Only a forest will show me how. Only an old forest.

Idler’s Rest — The pines here are virgin. They reach up and curve over and touch, and a creek bed runs through it. The trees are old now, and falling. The park men piece them out and move them off the paths. They are pews and a chickadee song is the prelude. This forest is a temple to its creator, and we are here to learn and worship.

Everything is hushed. My doubts about the wilderness God are silenced too, as if I were thinking too loudly and the girl whispered in my ear, shhhhh, listen. There are threads here that wind back to the Giver who wove this wood. Idler’s Rest is a few threads in a tapestry, which if we could hold it in our minds would roll out and reveal to us secret things of God. But our minds would break, like a house would if the floors pushed out in all directions at once.

We can only worm our fingers into the weave and clutch at a few threads. That is what we do here. We tramp through the forest thinking that over the next hill will be the wise hart (the hart Solomon yearned for and was given).

Once at the edge of the Rest, past the verge of the trees, I saw a great light, and I thought the Lord had come down. I ran towards it, and into a snowy field, so brilliant in the sun that it stung my eyes to tears. I did not see the Lord. I should have known. The mountains and the hills, though they yearned for it, had not yet broken out in song, and the trees, though they tried with every breeze, could not clap their hands.

I was ready to go, then. I was ready for the world to be rolled up and shaken out. I realized that though the clouds have not yet been drawn back for the Lord’s entrance, the moment I stepped into the field was closer to the Resurrection than the last. This spring is closer to Him than the last. The girl who tempts people into the wilds is growing in the nurture and admonition of a wild and loving God. He is so magnificent and vital that even as the stone was rolling into place, grass blades from a new world grew up between His tortured fingers. And we are hurtling, we are galloping, we are rushing through the forests toward His arms.

Idler’s Rest whispered these things to me. I was there and I touched the trees and the dirt and I heard those words, or I heard the things that hide behind those words. The wilds are an oaken cask that the gray-clad girl guards, full of mysteries that will be broached at the beginning of the next age of the Earth.

One mystery I know already: the Wilderness God is working with His trowel to make a garden; He is green-thumbed. Rivers are the veins in His hand, and a lake is a piece of his robe. He does not reveal Himself yet because He is working hard, and we are working hard, bringing the city and the garden and the wilds together, and making them bow their knees. The girl in gray has bowed already. Now she is painted bright and sings sun and water, earth and sky.

One day, we will be exploring, and we will run into a field and the sun will be brilliant and the Lord will be there. Tali will pick up a flower and Wilson will climb a tree. Zach will take a walk and I will lie in the grass. Until that day, we must find meadows in which to turn and turn until we fall down and laugh and cannot stand.


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