By Laurie Gudim
We spent last week on retreat at Nada Carmelite Hermitage near Crestone, Colorado, a magical place at the threshold between very tall mountains and an enormous, high-altitude desert. There, sitting in silence, we were reduced to the basics of being human – the elemental dialogue with wind, sun, clouds and a vast, empty land.
Every morning I watched the sun rise, a gradual amassing of light from below the rim of the world. Turning the mountains to the east to silhouettes edged in salmon, then touching with incandescent orange whatever clouds sailed the sky, it would announce its approach. Finally, after crowning in the crook of a black treeless peak, it would be born, all red with new life. The world would fill with color.
Apparently I missed the coyotes that filled the first night of our stay with singing and the yipping of the hunt, but I witnessed the thunder showers earlier. One visited us, dumping a load of moisture and leaving behind a rainbow that seemed to spring from the Nada chapel. We watched other storm cells in the distance, purple clouds with lightning like heartburn in their bellies pushing slanted curtains of rain through the immense San Luis Valley. Long after the sun had set they stuttered in the darkness.
Throughout the week, in hundreds of moments like these, God caressed my hungry soul with mystery. I was reminded that there is no way of containing the Holy in the jars of human understanding. Capricious, prodigious, yet loving as only a mother can, God blasted away my presuppositions and made me new.
This gave me a fresh appreciation of the disciple, Nathanael, in the moment when he first met Jesus. He was all bound up in his limited viewpoint, in the rivalry between Galilean towns, when he found himself in the presence of a man who carried the mystery of the entire desert in his soul. Nathanael was transformed. Jesus was the embodiment of the long view and the boundless mystery of the Creator. He saw – and he promised Nathanael that he, too, would see – incredible, wondrous things.
As we stand under our fig trees and eye the world with our limited, cynical vision, let us remember to listen for mystery. Let us admit the possibility of having our hearts opened and our minds blown. For at any moment we can meet the one who transforms us. In prayer, in silence, through worship, through an introduction by a caring friend, we can come into the presence of the Holy. We can be opened up to new life and new understanding; we can be rescued from our narrow ways. We can stand in the loving regard of the living God.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Photo by Laurie Gudim