…for they speak with the voice of God
Whenever we stay in Sleepy Hollow, New York we make time to wander the grounds of Rockefeller Preserve. This time, in early November, the golden, beckoning arms of autumn enveloped us as soon as we stepped onto the property. My heart immediately became full, my spirit stilled, as I walked the familiar paths and watched my kids skip stones across the lake. It was as if an old memory had somehow stepped forward and merged with the present. This is why, I thought, we embrace traditions, the act of merging past and present and future. It brings us comfort in its consistency and reoccurrence.
For many they go to a temple, a church house, or other structures of ritual and worship to feel the divine. I respect that. We all have our own pathway in which the divine, the spirit, God, or whatever you wish to call it speaks to us. For me, I have a hard time connecting spiritually in my church or temple. For me, the divine finds my heart in nature; in a walk through the woods, or in the reflection of autumn trees on a lake. And this has been especially true in this particular place. Rockefeller Preserve at once got under my skin the first time I was there. I've often pondered as to why. One thought I've toyed with is that many of my French Huguenot and Dutch ancestors once called this area home. Maybe some of my cells, something in my DNA, recognized this place. Perhaps a great grandmother once stole away to meet a secret and forbidden lover under these trees. But that is just my imagination running away with me, as it tends to do. It doesn't matter why I feel this connection. I just do. And this is where my spirit finds its pathway to my mind and opens it in ways it can't otherwise be opened.
"I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in." - George Washington Carver
The timing of my return to Rockefeller could not have been more perfect. I'm in a time of belief and thought transition in my life. I'm taking ownership of where my faith should lie, of what is deserving of my time and heart, and a lot of the change I am making breaks with the tradition of my fathers. Traditions are comforting and worthy, the merging of the past and the present, but some can be stifling and unhealthy, and those are the things that must be examined, no matter the discomfort it causes the psyche. In the wise words of Robert Frost, "Two roads diverged in the wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
As I walked the paths that wound through hauntingly beautiful woods, streams, and hills, I found myself holding back tears. One or two would escape and I would quietly wipe it away. I felt my spirit communing with the divine, with nature, and with beauty, and all I felt was love and affirmation. I have been trusting my intuition more lately, even as it leads me away from old, and sometimes harmful, beliefs. It's been frightening and uncomfortable in many ways, but here in nature, in the woods of the northeast, I could see the rightness in following where my heart leads. A sense of liberation, freedom, and appreciation for the world around me took hold. Nature is my chapel, and never fails me.
I realize I am far from alone in understanding nature's effect on our spirits. Poets have written entire books on this subject alone, and I know most of us can look back on a breathtakingly beautiful, spiritual moment that took place simply because we were in a forest, or on a beach, or a jungle, or desert. For me, my spirit connects most with the northeast woods. The New England and New York woods speak the language of my soul. And if it is autumn, all the better.
I wish I would think to spend more time than I do in my chapel made up of oaks, maples, of fallen leaves, dirt walkways, of streams and lakes that reflect the flow of life, that bear testimony of the ripple effect of love, demonstrated in a thrown pebble disrupting a watery surface. Life has a way of getting in the way. The distractions and tasks of life, however, make moments like this all the sweeter. And it is all important for spiritually connecting with the divine, the mundane moments as well as the spectacular ones that leave us in grateful tears or in deep serenity.
In the restructuring of my beliefs, my faith, of my way of life, I will add to the good and healthy traditions of my youth that I am keeping, a new one, merging present with future. Instead of investing my precious time in certain unfulfilling and unhealthy obligations that I am now letting go of, I will make time for small moments of devotion to be near a still pond, a raging river, or under a canopy of trees, staring at a sunset, or simply walking a dirt path and looking up at the stars through skeletal branches; letting my spirit reconnect to the earth that grounds me and sustains life and centers my soul.
"Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God." - George Washington Carver