One of my favorite parts of silent retreat is the opportunity to take the quiet of the retreat house or abbey and extend it out into the natural world. When I’m not busy worrying about work or listening to my iPod or talking to neighbors I pass along the way, walking becomes something entirely different. Not exercise, not a way to get from Point A to Point B, but a moving meditation.
I’m always amazed by what I see when I take the time to look and listen to the world around me, rather than rushing ahead with my ears buds in and my eyes focused a few feet ahead of me. Walk with me now down the Genesee Greenway and see some of what I saw through the silence of walking meditation.
This was my view (below) as I began the long walk down a nearby farm road toward the Genesee Greenway. I kept thinking of the road to Emmaus, probably because the prior brought up that topic during our conference the night before. As I walked down the hot, dusty road, not sure where I was going or what I would find at the end, I kept wondering if I’d recognize Jesus if I met him along the way. Do I recognize Jesus in my daily life? In the people I love or the strangers I meet or the people who annoy me?
I turned onto the Greenway path in total solitude. The only other person around was a farmer way off in the distance tending to his crops, and once I got deeper onto the path, even he disappeared from view. There was total silence, save for the sounds of nature — the occasional rustling in the leaves and bushes, the bees flying by, the mosquitoes buzzing near my ears. With every step, I entered more deeply into the silence. And suddenly the little things came into view.
Like the berries hanging from this bush, waiting for birds and little creatures to come by for a snack. What beauty is hidden in places we usually don’t bother to look?
Or this stand of white birch trees in the middle of the dark green woods. Typically I wouldn’t have blinked at a birch tree, so common are they in my own suburban neighborhood. But there, set against the deep colors of the forest, they seemed magical.
This little wounded butterfly stopped for a moment on a stalk of corn. He didn’t flinch as I edged closer to snap a photo. His woundedness made him more special to me, not less.
Corn as far as the eye could see. Everywhere I turned there was corn and more corn. Walking a path with cornfields on both sides made me so happy. I’m not completely sure why. And, yes, the corn was as high as an elephant’s eye.
This little lovely was nothing more than a pretty weed. I grabbed a slim stalk and another of Queen Anne’s Lace to add to my sacred space back at the retreat guest house. Sometimes we can find exactly what we need in the most unlikely places, like a patch of weeds.
As I walked another dirt road back toward the abbey, I saw this little chipmunk in the middle of the road, clearly injured and unable to move. Channeling my inner St. Francis, I talked to the little guy, and used a stick to coax him into the high grass at the edge of the road where I’m hoping he was hidden from the circling hawks and crows, not to mention the tires of the local farm truck.
Finally, back near the abbey, the pathway was lined with so many lovely wildflowers, including this sparse but striking specimen. As I wandered from cornfield to woods to river to garden to sunset, one thing kept playing in my mind: My God is an awesome God. How great thou art!