My childhood was filled with experiences of natural mysticism – seeking the Wild Divinity in a way, and somehow knowing the moments were sacred – without having any attachment to religious concepts or ways of naming them. I was probably a mystic in my childhood strolls through the wonderland of the open woods surrounding our home, seeking Something More in every hardened pine cone on the ground, crawfish in the red clay creek, and appearance of a gray possum up in the branches. I was a kind of mystic as we would ride the night train from New Orleans back home to Brookhaven, Mississippi, peering into the dark in hopes of catching a glimpse of Something. And I was an everyday mystic when the cousins would all gather on the giant front porch at our Mom and Pop’s house, celebrating the simple pleasures together in the swing and rocking chairs, or racing down the street to stand on a bridge and catch a face full of steam as a train would pass beneath us.
By age fifteen I experienced the mystical on a family “Holy Land” trip to Israel, with stops in Europe. I remember wandering away from the tour group on Mount Pilatus near Lucerne, Switzerland, when it was covered in clouds and fog. I heard a bell ringing off in the distance, and followed a trail around the steep cliffs to locate the source of that sacred sound. Even when I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me I kept seeking, somehow sure that God was out there in the mountain mists. Eventually the clouds cleared a bit and strands of sunlight revealed cows grazing on the grassy hillside far below us. The sound was the bells around their necks – not quite the appearance of God I was expecting – but still a moving adventure on the trail of the Wild Divinity.
Later my dad took me for a late night walk through the streets of Athens, Greece, and the worldly mystic in me treasured the city lights, and raucous sounds, and excitement of rounding the next corner and wondering what we would see. When we stopped to get a gyro with meat cut off a slab that was rotating in the store window, I knew the holiness of simple moments of hanging out with my dad in a foreign world.
Somehow my teenage mystic knew sacredness could be discovered in the simplest of moments. I took a mystical stroll through a wheat field at sunset outside the gates of old Jerusalem with my brother Roger. As we wandered along in silence I remember seeing several shepherds on the far side of the field. The evening sunlight was just streaming across the heads of their sheep as they guided them towards a safe haven for the night. I was amazed that we were seeing a scene just like what had been happening there ever since the time of Jesus. The sacredness of a simple walk in a field found me even as a youth.
As an adult, I was a nature mystic every time I would canoe from our backyard through Doubloon Bayou into the Honey Island wilderness at early evening. I was again watching for an appearance of the Holy as I gently glided through the stillness, and was mystified when pairs of brown whistling ducks would fly overhead on their way home. Mystery was present when the only sound was the multitude of fish all around me, coming to the surface of the waters to suck a breath of air.
I was also a nature mystic when I parked my rental car at the end of a dirt road in the Rocky Mountain National Park one October, and hiked up into the steep hills. Soon I thought I heard a loud drumming sound, which mystified me, and eventually realized it was my own heart beating so intensely that it sounded like drums in my head. I stopped to rest and to take in the vista of mountain ranges at the edge of evening. I felt the cold air on my face. Then I kept on searching, finally locating a herd of elk in the high country. They walked across the steeps like the gods of the Rockies. And I felt immense gratitude to be visiting their world.
My current writing is a collection of stories like these, vignettes of sacred moments showing us that the Wild Divinity can be noticed most anywhere on the planet. God’s wildness is not able to be captured and boxed into churches or religious doctrines. Collectively the stories are telling a larger Truth: when we discover an inner sanctuary where this Holy One resides, then we begin to notice how the gate of heaven is everywhere. It’s a journey inward and a journey outward.
For more stories like this watch for The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere, or see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.