When I’m paying attention, I am aware of the guides and companions that are journeying with me all through my life. Each hour of each day. I’m a believer in angels. I believe they come and visit, staying just long enough to get me through a tough time or long enough to remind me of something that can help me get from here to there. I’m a believer in the love of pets. Mine have always been dogs. I believe the unconditional love that comes from an animal is the purest I’ve ever found. A dog can ‘sit and be’ long enough with me so that my heart has time to catch up.
Paying attention to the notion of roots during this Advent time has been a helpful reminder for me. They can sometimes also serve as life teachers on this journey. There is something deeply comforting for me to know that even though I can’t see or even touch what is holding me up when the wind blows, there are roots deep and sure. Roots enough to keep me in place and sustain me.
Years ago, I attended a retreat in North Carolina that was being held near a big, beautiful lake. One afternoon we were given a couple hours to go and rest. I remember it was warm and sunny. I listened for the breeze and looked out at the lake and wondered if there was a path around it. Great day for a walk.
Sure enough there was a path leading off and so I followed, glad to be outside and glad for the day. There were big, old trees all along the water’s edge as I followed the trail that would lead me on.
Maybe it was the bright, blue sky. Maybe it was the breeze I could hear moving through the upper branches of the trees. Maybe it was that I had been inside a building more than I’d wanted to be. I’m not sure what it was, but I remember that as I started my reconnect-and-commune-with-nature walk, I was looking up. I could see how the branches of the big, old trees overlapped. I could hear a bird, and could follow her voice and find her up on a limb. I remember for just a moment, it was a beautiful thing.
And then I tripped.
Smack in the middle of the trail was one of the old pine tree’s roots bending completely across. Tripped right over it. I remember it was one of those trips that sent me flying. I stayed upright I’m proud to report, but “when the music stopped” (as Dad used to say), I’d clumped and teetered and ended up dis-shelved. When all my momentum finally slowed down, I remember first looking around to see if anyone had seen me. The coast appeared to be clear, so then I remember thinking “that hurt,” immediately followed by “please don’t do that again.” Soon after a deep, cleansing breath (learned earlier that day in the retreat 😊), I continued on my getting-back-to-nature walk.
Not more than five minutes later, I tripped again. Went down that time.
Again, after looking around and not seeing anyone seeing me, I got up and brushed myself off. This time though, I had gained deep-insight and wisdom. The second time I stopped and looked down. I saw what had been right there in front of me. There was another thick, old root directly crossing the path. I remember looking at that root, about as thick as my arm. I remember seeing it. Then my eye following it back to its tree trunk and up to the top of the tree.
It was only after my second close-encounter with a root, that I stopped. It took me a second time to finally sit down. When I sat I found that I began to see a little differently. Hear a little differently. Smell and feel a little differently. I remember, now years ago, that it was surely a moment when a walk around a lake turned into a life moment, a message moment. In that lesson there was a little bit of release, a little bit of grace and then a message came: it’s all around you. Beauty. Wonder. Gifts. Messages. Guides. We are all around you.
For many of us, this Advent season may already have a destination. Many of us have intentionally and faithfully made our way through December days before, holding preconceived images of what we will most probably feel and find come Christmas morning. Perhaps it’s like watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” again. We know how it turns out.
Or do we?
Perhaps just as when I began my walk around the lake, you and I have been predicting what beauty we will find this Christmas. This Advent just may hold something unexpected. This Advent instead, we can slow down and see differently. Set another course. Make another way. Move slower, with more thought and intention. We need to look without predicting what we will see, listen without anticipating what we will hear.
Getting tripped up happens more often than I’d like to admit. Just when I think I’m making my way, I stumble and bumble and sometimes end up on the ground in a heap. And maybe that’s exactly where the next lesson has been, all along.