Over the last two days I have been in northern Minnesota at a clergy retreat. We were blessed to have been staying in a condo overlooking Lake Superior. To watch the play of light on the lake at various times of the day was a great gift. The coolness of color in the morning sun gave way to brilliance by noontime. As the sun began to sink farther into the horizon the richness of the many possible shades of blue began to wash the sky.
Yesterday morning I was laying in my guest bed looking out at the morning sky as orange,peach,pink and yellow wove a pattern resembling a swirling silk necktie along the horizon. I was laying there simply allowing this gift of color and silence to awaken me to another day. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure moving as if in slow motion, like a mime walking an imaginary tightrope. I moved to a seated position in the bed sitting cross legged as in meditation. Not more than six feet from the sliding glass door of my room stood a deer looking straight into my watching eyes. Trying to take on this creature’s ability to stay still, I quieted my muscles and my breath until we were both simply being, looking at one another face to face. There was no fear in this wild creature who must know instinctively to fear humans. In that moment of staring into its beautiful, brown, unblinking eyes, I had the overwhelming feeling of being connected to a fellow creation in a deep way. It was a truly holy moment.
After several minutes of this encounter, the deer was joined by another and they walked slowly off into the woods toward the lake. I wracked my brain trying to remember the Mary Oliver poem where she writes so beautifully about a similar experience. I cursed myself for not memorizing those poems I love so much, for not being able to pull them up at will for such a time as this. But then I gently realized that the experience I had just had perhaps needed no words to define it. It was simply a true moment of being.
Back home I went to the bookshelf to look for the poem. It is called “Five A.M. in the Pinewoods” and in it she describes what may have been a dream about an encounter with two deer or a real experience. The poem ends with these words:
This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
one of them -I swear it!-
would have come to my arms,
But the other
stamped a sharp hoof in the
pine needles like
the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,
I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.
Yes. Those were the words I was looking for to express my face to face encounter. I am glad to have found them. But what I am remembering are the beautiful, brown, unblinking eyes and the place they have made in my heart.