Trees and Boulders
Below you will read about an experience I had which lead me to a couple of spiritual insights which I have already found to be personally helpful. I write this musing to share these two insights with you and to demonstrate how you can be present and interact with the now of your experience/reality in a way that can open you up to the possibility of encountering God and God's truth in surprisingly delightful ways.
The italicized words in the brackets below are my editorial comments. These are given to help you get a sense of what was going on inside me during this time and how I was seeking to remain present to the experience and process even as my own internalize awareness and sense of what might be going on was changing.
While leading a retreat in Julian this past weekend I stumbled upon a couple insights I would like to share with you regarding ways in which you can proactively partner with God as God forms and shapes you more and more into the image of Jesus.
In the middle of doing in a reflective exercise I decided to go outside and quietly, observe and experience the surroundings on the back deck of the cabin in which we were staying. I did this for a few minutes, standing and feeling the sun on my face, observing the trees and grass below, as well as the trees in front of the patio, and looking at the grass in the field out beyond the immediate area. After a few minutes I decided to move to the front of the cabin and proceeded to do the same thing, namely, stand still and listen and pay attention to the physical realities that surrounded me, as I had done on the back porch.
(Now this wasn't part of the exercise I was doing but somehow I felt drawn away from the actually exercise and prompted to journey outside to the back deck and then after a few minutes I sensed the need to move to the front of the house. At this point I couldn't tell you for sure if this was an invitation from God or not.)
What caught my attention and intrigued me were the two different realities I was experiencing in these two settings, even though these are separated by maybe 40 feet at most.
What I observed was this: in the back I was unable to feel the breeze that was obviously blowing above me and down in the field below. I could see the leaves moving in the high tree branches a few feet from the back deck and the grass swaying in the breeze in the field, but I was unable to feel, sense, or experience the breeze. However, when I moved to the front of the house, I was able to personally feel, sense and experience the breeze. And furthermore, as I stood quietly on the front porch for several minutes, I noticed that if I listened carefully, I was able to discern the coming, strengthening, or weakening of the breeze even before I experienced the reality of the coming or changing of the breeze.
(Because I was inexplicably drawn away from the exercise I was doing and sort of lead to these two places I began to sense there might be more to this than just getting some sun and fresh air - especially since my experience in the back and front of the cabin were so different. This gave me pause to stop and reflect. At this point I began to think that God may be involved in all this.)
As I began to ponder these two naturally occurring realities of my experience on the back deck and in the front of the house, what began to birth within me was an awareness that these two ordinary experiences were a window to far greater spiritual truths which, if articulated, would lead to an invitation and challenge from God and, if embraced, would lead me to greater freedom to be and to become the unique creation of God that God has created me to be.
(I did not rush this process or try to force something to take shape but merely sought to be present to the experience and trust God to lead and guide me through it. I sought to rest and be open to God without expectations. Now I believed that what was going on was God thing.)
As I alternated from the back deck to the front of the cabin, I continued to stand in each place silently, being, experiencing, and paying attention to the voice of nature without and the voice of the Spirit within. Time after time I could experience the wind and even hear the changes in the strength and intensity of the wind in the front of the cabin, while on the back deck I could continue to see the effects of the wind around me but not personally experience the reality of the wind.
While I paid special attention to my experience of the wind I recalled to mind that both in Hebrew and Greek the word Ďspirití could be rightly translated wind/breeze. So, I moved to the front of the house and stood there as I began to ponder what my experience of wind might reveal to me regarding experiencing in deeper ways the profound reality of the Holy Spirit in my life.
(Now a key piece of the puzzle had emerged. I can't say if it was God or me that surfaced the wind and spirit piece in my mind but I knew this was the Rosetta stone for my current experience. I now had to fight the temptation to rush toward insight and instead remain open to what God may what to show me, challenge me with, reveal to me and God 's timing in all this.)
As I pondered this I realized that the key to me hearing the approaching changes in the wind in terms of its intensity and coming presence were the trees. For if the trees were not there, I would not have been able to hear the wind invisibly making its way through the branches and leaves of the trees and discern itís change in intensity. It was the presence of the trees that announced the coming and changing of the wind.
However, there were also trees in the back of the house but for some reason they were not able to function in the same way. After considering this for a number of minutes I decided to make my way back to the back deck. I transversed the 40 feet in record time and once again discovered that my experience of hearing, sensing or feeling the wind on the back porch was nonexistent, even though I was able to see the effects of the wind passing through higher branches of the trees several feet in front of me and through the grass 100 yards directly in front of me. As I pondered this, once again imaging wind/breeze in terms of Godís Spirit, spiritual insights began to arise.
I looked to my left from the back porch and discovered that there were a number of large boulders and even a detached structure that were barriers to the wind, making it impossible to experience the wind/spirit even though the wind/spirit was indeed there and active. So I returned to the front of the cabin and discovered there were no such hindrances to the wind/spirit and once again I experienced and could even discern the changes in the coming wind/spirit.
(This entire process was slow, unhurried, deliberate and entered into without expectation. It probably lasted between 20-25 minutes. It was not driven by a need to discover anything but rather grew out of an inner prompting/invitation that I choose to respond to. And I think it is important to note that at first I didn't have a sense that the inner prompting/invitation was from God at all.)
So what are the spiritual insights that I gleaned from this experience of being present to the wind? Well, they are as follows:
The trees*(see example below) represent those things in our lives that sensitize our heart to the things of God and thus enable us to anticipate, discern and enter into the movements of the Spirit.
The question then is: what are the trees in your life that you have intentionally planted to help you discern coming movements of Godís Spirit in your life and around you?
Are there new/additional trees that you need to plant?
Are there trees that were once planted but have been cut down or uprooted that need to be replaced?
If in fact you do have these trees planted in your life that will help you to hear, discern and experience the Spirit of God, do you take the time to cultivate and care for them so you are better able to discern the comings and movements of the Spirit?
The second set of questions deals with insights from boulders**(see below): what are the boulders in your life that can hinder you from experiencing the reality of the Spirit in your life?
Take the time to identify what the boulders are in your life.
Then prayerfully spend some time exploring and asking God to help you discover what the attraction of these boulders is for you? What do they promise to provide for you for which you sense a deep need? Bring these needs and desires to God, asking God to help you understand how these needs and desires can be met in ways that would enhance your ability to be open to the Spirit of God.
Bring your insights to God, asking God for help to remove these boulders from your life or at least begin to chip away at them and plant trees where they once were.
My hope in writing this musing is three fold:
1) That it will encourage you to respond to the inner promptings/invitations you become aware of and see where they might lead you. I believe that there are burning bushes (God's presence) all around us and it is up to us to take the time to slow down and notice them and then see what may happen next.
2) That you will make it a priority to plant new trees as God leads and to cultivate and care for the trees that are currently on the landscape of your life.
3) That you will proactively identify the boulders and/or structures in your life that hinder you from experiencing the Spirit and take steps to intentionally remove these boulders and/or structures from the landscape of your life.
These are three worthwhile endeavors which will help you infuse your life with adventure, freedom and winsomeness. You will never know what your day may bring but you will be forever open to the in-breaking of God and better equipped to notice and enter into the movements of the Spirit in your life and that makes all the difference in the world.
*Trees: spiritual disciplines (I define a spiritual discipline as any activity that is entered into with the intention of opening oneself up to the presence of God, the one who is always present to us), such as intentional time spent being open to God, cultivating the ability to internally quiet down your heart and mind, putting silence and solitude into your life, spending time pondering and meditating on the scriptures and the person of God, taking time to be still and be present to God, spiritual direction, giving yourself permission to slow down in order to be present to the now of your experience (for that is where you will meet and experience God), spiritual reading, redefining prayer as an opening up of oneself to God, small group interaction that is spiritual in nature, etc.
**Boulders: sin, non-sin activities that keep you too busy or you are using for distraction from facing difficult realities about yourself or your life, involvements that rob you of or dull your ability to experience the Spirit of God in your life.
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