January felt particularly long this year. After several cloudy weeks with no sun in sight, my emotional state mirrored the constant gray. Usually snow tempers this for me, its crystalline beauty creating a winter wonderland that I love to explore. Finally, three weeks in, my chance came–several inches had fallen over the past couple of days, enough to build up a solid base on the cross-country ski trails at the park near our house.
Feeling a bit disconnected and uninspired, I finished a text conversation with a friend, telling him I was going to “go enjoy the woods and see if I can’t feel the Divine.” His response was perfect: “Nice. Enjoy! And tell her I said hello.” I smiled, as his natural reference to “her” sparked something inside me. I’d intentionally referred to “the Divine,” knowing that I longed for a connection with the Presence I’ve felt in sacred moments, a Presence that was so very different from what the name God more often conjures up for me: images that are judgmental, stern, and definitely not feminine. And yet even in my intentionality, I wasn’t imagining “her.”
Arriving at the park, I counted several cars in the parking lot, alleviating the little bit of discomfort I felt about skiing alone for the first time. I stepped into my skis and set off on a trail that I knew would take me along Pigeon Creek, my favorite place in the park. In my experience, there are few things as beautiful as dense woods, thick with snow-covered trees, the layer of snow muffling sounds and creating a surreal quiet. The snow was still gently falling, and the sun was actually peeking out, casting long tree-shadows on the trail ahead.
After a few minutes of breathing hard and working to maintain my balance, my body fell into the familiar rhythm of pushing and gliding, pushing and gliding, enough so that I began to take in more of my surroundings. My senses felt alive and active, very unlike the dull numbness of the past weeks. I swear I could even smell the snow! When I reached the creek, I skied over to the edge, listening to the water rushing over the smooth rocks lining the creek bed, saw the sunlight streaming down through the trees, dancing in sparkling patches on the surface of the water. I decided to sit for a few moments on a nearby bench, wanting to soak in as much beauty as possible.
After watching the water for a while, I leaned back and allowed my eyes to drift shut. I wanted to talk with Her, and while my brain has made a new connection to “her,” it has not yet connected with open-eyed prayer.
I was aware of feeling more connected, embodied, than I had been in quite a while, able to feel and speak what I had been holding inside.
I waited in the stillness, risking again my longing for a felt sense of the Divine. With my face tipped up, I noticed the sudden gust of wind, cold air skimming over my cheeks, leaves rustling overhead. An equally strong burst of emotion welled up inside. She heard. She knows me.
I loaded my skis back into my car that day with a full heart, grateful for the experience, aware that the little bench by Pigeon Creek will join other spaces that I hold memories of sacred encounters in. Back at home, I wrote a poem of sorts (I’m not a poet) in an attempt to capture the diverse images and senses I had of Her that day in the woods.
She is beauty
She is stillness
She is graceful
She is laughter
She is powerful
She is gentle
She is sparkling
She is shadow
She is movement
She is quiet
She is light
She is comfort
She is good.
I think a common temptation after experiences like this can be to try and replicate the experience, hoping to recreate the connection by following the same steps. And yet my experience has been that this is a sure path to disappointment, a reminder that the Divine, Spirit, Jesus can’t be conjured up like magic…She is far more mysterious than that.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris, and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.