We have a patch of woods behind our home. It’s not exactly Wild America, but it’s about as close as you can get to it, whilst living in crowded Chicago suburbia. We pile on hats, boots, gloves, coats, and tramp down the icy path. It’s not exactly quiet – there’s a major highway just a short distance away – but for the most part, you can’t see anything but trees, trees, trees. I imagine that, for my little guys, “the woods” are a huge, magical place, and the little berm we hike down to get there is like climbing down a mountainside. I heave their little bodies over fallen logs, or hold their hands as they balance on top. Charlie tries to find frozen puddles to “skate” on, and Joshie runs around, picking up animal poop and getting hit in the face with branches.
I love our little winter nature hikes (…minus the fecal matter episodes). In the summer, everything grows over, and the mosquitos breed by the thousands. The ground gets moist and squishy. The paths disappear in a sea of green, and we stay away, for the most part. But during the colder months, the bugs are gone. The snow catches our feet, makes our footing sure. The overgrowth withers and dies, and the land becomes bare, clear, accessible.
I’ve been looking for things to love about winter, and I’m finding a new rhythm, a sort of way to navigate this chilly season. Winter walks in the woods are one of them. It’s a way for me to celebrate the dormancy, and a way for my boys to blow off a little bit of steam. We look for stumps gnawed by beavers. I breathe deeply.
I wanted to tell you about this, because (1) I wanted you to know that an hour or two before you’re getting ready to crawl out of bed, we’re on the other side of the world in a tizzy, trying to get out the door for our calm! peaceful! serene! WINTER WALK IN THE WOODS! I’m shoving little hands into mittens, jamming tiny feet into boots, insisting on snow pants while the two-year-old insists against my insisting, and telling Charlie that no, we can’t have hot chocolate before the walk. After, baby. AFTER. Consider us your wake-up call from the opposite side of the earth.
And (2). As regards to this talk we’ve been having of meaning, significance, hope… Sometimes it’s very clear to me. God is here, we are close, we are friends. And other times, I can’t see very far. I ask, where did You go? It’s like the woods in the summertime. I’ve walked these same paths a hundred times, but somehow, they grow over. I lose the way, and choose to stay back behind the fence, Yard Guard in hand.
I’m really interested in Ms. Ehrenreich’s book – thanks for mentioning it. She sounds thoughtful, and very, very brave, and I say that without a bit of condescension. We God-believers have Power and Sovereignty and a Creator to back us (or hide behind). I take comfort in the fact that God is in control, at least in the abstract. But I go there, sometimes. I remove God from the world, in my mind, and see what is left. And suddenly, things are more echoey, lonely, more cavernous. It takes great courage to live there, in a God-less world. (It takes courage to live anywhere, period, but that’s another story.)
Last night, I finished Lauren Winner’s Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. (Do you know Lauren Winner? Her first book, Girl Meets God, blew me away my senior year of college. I was utterly charmed by the woman, her writing, and the thousands of books she claimed to own.) This book deals with death and divorce, and a rift that grows between her and the God she once served. It’s raw, and honest. One reviewer said that it was too whiny, too “stuck,” but I appreciated the melancholy. I relate.
At one point, she talks about the feast of Purim and its origins in the book of Esther, the only book in the Bible where God goes unmentioned:
“Call it not the Book of Esther, but the Book of God’s Hiddenness, the Book of God’s Hidden Face. Though God is at work, God hides.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps God is not hiding, but absent. Perhaps it is not God working to save the Jews of Persia, but only Mordecai, only Esther; not God, but coincidence that a Jew wound up married to the king, in the perfect position to petition for her people. You have a choice: see God here or not; see salvation, or see only human courage; see the divine subtly at work, or see chance, luck of the draw on this day of lots.”
God? or No God? Winner goes on to resolve that tension, in bits and pieces, throughout the book, and well before it was over, I knew that she was writing this book for herself. Reading it was like watching her find her path again, a new way through the trees.
I like talking through this with you. It’s helping me find my own way. Thank you, thank you, for being a part of it. And thank you for putting words to what I’ve always felt but didn’t know how to say. I never knew that the reason I had so much trouble with “God’s glory is the highest purpose” is because it is heavy, scary theology. (I’ve heard many, many describe it otherwise, burrowing in, snuggling right up to it.)
Also, you asked if we are building, excavating, or dancing.
I pick dancing. Definitely dancing.
It’s midnight here. Are you eating lunch? I should be sleeping…