Sometimes the thing that makes us shine comes when we encounter the Kingdom of heaven as it breaks through into our lives on earth. The Celtic Christians called those encounters liminal spaces, when the veil between here and there is very slight. And these encounters— like all beauty—require a response. I had one of those encounters when Steve and I went to the enchanted little mountain town of Crested Butte in Central Colorado, just as the aspen were beginning to crest, when you can feel the heat slowly seeping from the earth, yawning and beginning its slow turn into sleep. It was perfect.
We needed this little getaway, and the atmosphere ushered us quickly into a lazy state of being. We spent two days hiking into the Maroon Bells Wilderness. We didn’t attack the trail, but instead we took our time, drinking in pine, spruce, gold and crimson aspen, and the smell of wet riverbeds. And we enjoyed an unusually high volume of raptors in the air— eagles, hawks, a falcon, some osprey. Raptor sightings have always brought us strength. As we walked, Steve admitted to me, with vulnerable shyness, “I would really love to, finally, see an owl.” Steve knew I have had a few sacred encounters with owls, and I knew it took a lot of courage for him to admit his longing for this— again. You see, Steve had been praying for two years to see an owl. We hear them occasionally near our home, but his eyes have never, in all his Colorado years, feasted on one. The desire runs deep and he, like all of us, wonders if God cares about those desires.
I love owls, everything about them. I love their puffy baby feathers when they are little, I love the way their eyes know things, things from other worlds. I love their wingspans, their stealth flight patterns, their ethereal calls in the night. As we continued on the trail, I quietly whispered my request, “Jesus, it would be great if you would bring an owl to delight Steve’s heart.” We returned to the little European-style lodge where we were staying, having seen no owl, but our surroundings were too lovely for us to be too disappointed.
On our last night, Steve wanted to do some reading, and I felt the Spirit nudging me outside one last time: Come look at the stars. I knew that to get the best view possible of the celestial blanket that hangs low in the mountains, I needed to get away from town. So I drove as the sun was setting. And I drove, and the sun kept setting. And I drove. I found a serpentine side road that began to climb. Hairpin turn, climb, hairpin turn up, up past some secluded private roads. The sky was beginning to deepen, but I only saw one star. So I kept driving. After almost twenty minutes of low-grade light, the road ended. At this point I was on a ridge high above Crested Butte, so I decided to get out and walk around a bit. The trees were dense and I couldn’t really see over the edge, so I began to walk into the woods, toward what looked like a clearing. Finally, the forest was darkening, so I hoped to find a spot and— finally— watch the stars come out. Suddenly, I felt a rush of air over my head and saw the slightest shadow. From the corner of my eye I saw a large bird, moving through the trees. I wondered if it was a raptor. I smiled to think of it flying near me. Then I felt it again, this time right— as in directly—over my head. I could discern that its body had some bulk, so I felt confident that it was a raptor. But again it had disappeared. Suddenly— whoosh. No, wait— whoosh. Oh my goodness, that was two of them! I ducked just a bit, hearing nothing, but watching the forms of two flying creatures come to rest on the branch of a sparse ponderosa pine. After they lit on the branch, I could see their outline.
Owls. Those are owls! I was thrilled. As I studied the two, again I felt it: whoosh, whoosh. I felt two more, but this time I saw stocky little creatures— round-shouldered, stubby little wings, which also landed, and looked like little Yodas in the tree. I realized that these were very young owls, and they began calling to each other from tree to tree with a high, quick screech— the cry of adolescence. The low, circular flight over my head continued. Owls circled, watching me, checking me out. One after the other after the other. I would watch two land, and three more would descend. I counted eleven all together. At one point I dropped to my knees in the pine needles, partly to take a bit of cover under my own arms, and partly because that’s what happens in the midst of glory. I could not decide whether to laugh or cry. So I did both. There were no witnesses, just me and the little army of old and young wise creatures, swarming like bees. Jesus just kept asking the same question: “Do you like it?” My answer came out as a delighted belly-laugh of a yes.
And now it was dark. I backed out of the woods slowly, sad that it had to end. When I got to the car, after shaking off a bit of the adrenaline, a terrible thought hit me: Steve.
I wanted to race down the hill, barge into the room and share it with him. But I felt tentative, careful with his heart. I didn’t want to step on his desires, tread on that tender place in all of us which quietly wonders, “Why not me, God?” But I also knew I wanted to respect Steve enough to handle the disappointment in order to rejoice with me. I thought about all the times I have told female clients to allow their men to have broad shoulders for them. My turn. I decided to risk it. It would be disappointing to him, I knew. I also knew that he loves it when my heart is delighted, and he would be thrilled on my behalf. I drove back and opened the door to the room, albeit tentatively. He immediately saw the glory in my eyes (I wouldn’t have been able to hide it anyway). I sat down on the bed, quiet for a few moments, then told him. A moment’s disappointment crested in his eyes, and then a surge of excitement for me came. He was genuinely in awe. We shared the magic of it for a while, and then I was able to care for him, inquiring about his heart in light of his prayers. That is a delicate dance, isn’t it? If I had rushed into the room, hiding the glory I had just basked in, trying to protect his heart without letting him be strong for me first, I’m pretty sure he would have felt it as mothering. As it was, I could bask in his joy, we could laugh and stand in wonder together, and then I could turn with care for the tender heart of a strong man, the man I had just allowed to be strong. So instead of a mother, I could be Steve’s lover.
If you prayed the Lord’s Prayer that day, I appreciate it, because the kingdom came to me on earth as it is in heaven. The beauty of that kingdom invites us to be kind and it calls us to be respectful. Kingdom beauty hesitates; it doesn’t move or speak abruptly. It considers. But the beauty of heaven, when it shows up on earth, also compels us to take risks. Beauty rarely, if ever, descends on us so we can play it safe through hiding or control. As my friend Dan says, “The heavens and earth will one day be so free of blight, heartache, and sin that the creation will come to play with the kings and queens of creation: you and me.” Well, a glimpse of that day descended on me, and it was a blast.
This entry was an excerpt from my most recent book: Jan Meyers Proett (2013-07-15). Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me (Kindle Locations 1504-1511). Bondfire Books. Kindle Edition.
Jan Meyers Proett has been a counselor for over twenty years and is the author of The Allure of Hope, Listening to Love, and Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me. She has worked on behalf of exploited women internationally, but also loves the trails of Colorado, where she lives with her husband, Steve. Follow Jan at her Facebook author page, and her blog.