The sanctuary in which I’ve experienced the most divine bliss is landscaped with mud, ticks and decaying leaves.
Pollen drifts across the rocky path that’s all but impassable due to a fallen birch tree. Birds tweet the hymns in this wilderness chapel — a woodpecker is rhythm-keeper and a crow provides the baritone.
Each tree strives majestically toward the heavens like a steeple, each branch bowing in supplication to the Source of all light. Sunlight flickers like a candle through the trees, casting shadows onto the trail and the underbrush.
The only rumors here are whispered by the wind, the only offering plate passed is a nut from one squirrel to another. Me living fully present in each moment is my oblation even when my wallet is empty.
I imagine every form of creature — every insect and plant — feels as welcome here as I do. This immaculate, messy canopy of raw life doesn’t mind my unshaven legs and muddy tennis shoes.
Judgement rests on my shoulders alone. Here I ask myself if I’m living my highest truth, if I’m inhaling gratitude and exhaling love. I wonder if I respect all life and all people as much as this enchanted cathedral seems to me.
A chipmunk takes its place on a boulder while I find my own pew on a log. I sit reverently awaiting the message I’m bound to hear in such a profundity of silence. The answers to my questions stir deep within, and I feel pangs of remorse for remembered shortcomings and surges of joy for the successful completion of many of life’s lessons.
I listen to the stream gurgle and remember my baptism. As I was being dunked into that cold river water when I was seven, I wondered how water could wash away anything other than the dirt on my feet from running barefoot along the riverbank.
Now, I understand that it can’t. It’s my intention that matters. Mud could wash away my faults just as well as a waterfall could. Absolution begins and ends in my mind.
I sink my hands into the ground beneath me, feeling the grass and the dirt between my fingers, thankful that before the first stone church was built, there was this — the exquisite sanctuary of an ultimately forgiving Nature.
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.