Tuesday, February 8, 2011

From a Hike - Winter 2008

I needed a break from studying so I headed out into the wilderness. Ok, it was a bike path through the woods. But I was alone, and there was no one in sight. It was nice and warm, above 70 degrees. The trees were completely barren, and the forest floor was awash with flattened leaves. After about 15 minutes of twists and turns, and some time after a slight divergence onto a golf course - (I watched two old farts line up for a drive...one sliced and the other faded...I thought: If they had only been born one person...they could've made the tour...) - I noticed a barely trodden path into the woods, and up the side of a hill. It was a medium incline. I glanced behind me and seeing no one around...I hopped off the paved path, into the forest and up the leafy trail. 

That's when things got interesting. I was suddenly completely alone, and on the edge of a great forest. I felt like I had just fallen through the Wardrobe. I began to climb up the small leafy path, and through the trees. (Now, I want to write a detailed description of what followed, because it was so wonderfully spirit filled and vivid. Such a change from my study quarters.)

As I approached the top of the hill, I realized that I was about to overlook quite a summit. And as I crested the top of the ridge, all of a sudden...I was hit with a cacophony of sound. It was loud, when just a minute before, all was silent besides my tripping through forest debris. Suddenly all I could hear was at least a million frogs chirping away from the bottom of the valley that I only now could see. In fact, the ridge overlooked such a steep slope that I couldn't really see to the bottom. I noticed a dead tree stump to my right and hopped up. Only then could I see completely over the ridge to the bottom of the valley. There was a river running through the middle, and the frogs must've been making the waterway their home. It was interesting because, had I not taken the leafy path up the hill, I never would've heard the frogs, or realized that there was such a sudden drop only 50 yards from the paved bike path. 

So I sat on the stump for a bit trying to remain silent and appreciative. I mean, the view over this hill was into...wilderness. No houses...no golf course...I could've been in Greenridge State Forest. (I did see a sign that it was a preserve instituted by the City of Raleigh.) After some time, as they always do, the animals began to flit about again. I noticed some things I had never seen before. To my right, about 10 yards away were two woodpeckers. Not the large ones with the crested red heads, but the smaller ones with the red breast and black backs. I didn't know that woodpeckers traveled together. One was clearly male and the other female. They were busy flying back and forth amongst the smaller trees in the underbrush of the forest. I thought the pair together was interesting. Love...exciting and new.

The frogs chirped away.

After some time, I hopped off the stump. As I landed my arms flew up a bit, which scared out of the canopy one of the largest hawks I have ever seen. In his beak was a lifeless animal, (or was it in his talons?)...maybe the size of a skinned rabbit. He flew...or glided perhaps is a better description...across the valley, above the frogs, over the river, and into a tree on the incline on the other side. As he soared he let out a shriek, the likes of which I have only heard in the movies. 'EEEEEEeeeeerrrrrrrrr.' Super high pitched and shrill. You can imagine it...like something before a shootout in a wild west flick. Another cool bit...He landed next to another hawk about half his size. If I hadn't watched the trajectory of his flight, I never would have noticed them sitting together on the other side of the valley. They blended in so well. But there they were, heads a bobbing...silently adjusting on the branch. I watched for another 30 seconds or so...then larger hawk flew off again to the left. I lost track of him in the distance. When I tried to find the smaller hawk, and the branch they both had just been sitting on...I could not.

So I kneeled down on the path and looked around for a couple minutes. Sometimes when I'm in the woods, I get the sudden feeling that someone may be watching me. You see, more than just being paranoid, I know what it's like to be silently sitting in the woods only to be startled by the oncoming noisiness of a hiker coming over a ridge. For the hiker, it's really hard to notice someone sitting motionless at the base of a tree, or partly concealed by a tree. In fact, there have been times when I've heard the onset of people coming my way...voices echoing, tree limbs snapping...and I've just remained still and let them pass by me. Often, they've never noticed my presence. It's not until you stop moving, stop kicking up the underbrush, stop talking...that you notice how quiet it can get in the woods. I guess its a metaphor for life huh? You want to feel the weight of God's presence? Shut your mouth for a bit...unplug from the internet, and be quiet. So maybe someone was watching me...or watching over me...either way it put me on edge a little bit. It made it easier to imagine what ancient people meant when they wrote that God should be 'feared.' His presence is so powerful, that when you accidentally stumble into it...you can almost feel the weight of it pressing you to your knees. Perhaps respect is a better word...except for the fact that it can be pretty scary. Maybe it's not God who's frightening...maybe it's the realization of your own insignificance, the understanding of your own inadequacy in His presence.

Anyway, the point is...I suddenly felt small and vulnerable.

I decided to say a little prayer. I know, I know...my atheist pals would be rolling their eyes at this point...but when the Holy Spirit moves you, there not a whole lot of choice in the matter. So this is what happened next. By the way, I'm not making any of this stuff up. It just happened an hour ago. 

I was still silently crouched in the middle of the forest, on a bed of dead leaves. I got down on my knees, and bowed my head. No sooner had I mouthed 'Lord, forgive me for my transgressions...' When I heard from above, the sound of a booming avalanche. Having already been a little bit on edge, this was a bit much. I must admit...I cried out briefly like a little girl. It startled me. About 20 yards away...a gigantic tree limb, the size of a small tree itself, had snapped from the ceiling of the forest. It was heavy enough to rip down branches of all sizes as it fell. I couldn't believe how loud the initial 'crack' was. It landed with a thud to the forest floor kicking up a pile of leaves and limbs. Boom! I was close enough to feel the impact.

I didn't know whether to take this as a good sign, or perhaps not such a good sign. I sat there looking around, scanning the undergrowth for a while. I quickly wrapped up any prayers, and moved out of the forest and back to the bike path. To say the least, I was quite a bit unnerved.

I was left with the feeling that God had imparted to me this: "You're a good guy. But if you're going to walk around professing to know me...you need to live it too. I hear you, you're forgiven...but never forget...I'm real, I'm here, and I'm powerful. Respect it." Of course I didn't hear these words...I just felt like that was the message of my experience. Which I think...I think...is how the Holy Spirit talks. Like mental telepathy, but straight to your heart.

Upon reflection, it was a great thing. It was a good hike. I wanted to jot it down so I wouldn't forget any of it.

Now back to the books.