The search for the Wild Divinity has been a life-long search for me. Some compelling force was pulling me forward even when I was unaware of what I was seeking. The search was happening from my earliest days.
My childhood was filled with experiences of natural mysticism in strolling through the wonderland of the open woods surrounding our home. I was seeking Something More in every magical pinecone on the ground, crawfish in the red clay creek, and appearance of a gray possum. Those sacred moments were full of wonder, though I couldn’t have known then that I was in search of a Wild Divinity. I had no words for the quest back then.
I was a kind of child mystic as we would ride the night train from New Orleans back home to Brookhaven, Mississippi. I would peer into the dark in hopes of catching a glimpse of an Unknown Something. I was an everyday mystic when the cousins would all gather on our Mom and Pop’s giant front porch to celebrate the simple pleasures in the swing and rocking chairs. Maybe we were all mystics as we leapt off that porch to race down South Jackson Street and up onto the nearby bridge to catch a face full of steam as a train passed beneath us.
By age fifteen, I experienced the mystical on a family “Holy Land” trip, 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 could only see a few feet in front of me I kept seeking, sure that God was out there in the mountain mists.
The clouds opened a bit and strands of sunlight revealed cows grazing on the grassy hillside far below me. 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.
A few days later my dad took me for a late-night walk through the streets of Athens, Greece, and the worldly mystic in me treasured the lights and 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 rotating in the store window, I knew the wonder of hanging out with my dad in a foreign place.
My teenage mystic discovered sacredness in the simplest moments. I took a stroll through a wheat field at sunset, walking just 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 golden evening sunlight was just streaming across the heads of their sheep as they guided them towards a safe haven for the night. We witnessed a scene that had been happening there ever since the time of Jesus. The sacredness of such a walk through a golden field was not lost on me, even as a youth.
As an adult, I was a nature mystic every time I would paddle my canoe from our Louisiana backyard into the Doubloon Bayou and through the Honey Island wilderness at early evening. I was again watching for an appearance of the Holy as I gently glided through the stillness. I was mystified when pairs of brown whistling ducks would fly overhead on their way home. The mystery grew when the only sound at dusk was the multitude of fish all around me, coming to the surface of the water to suck a breath of air. And that was just before the iridescent green tree frogs would start their nightly symphony. The Wild Divinity seemed very near.
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 since I was alone. I eventually realized it was my own heart beating so intensely that it sounded like drums in my head. I rested and took in the vista of mountain ranges at the edge of evening. I felt the cold air on my face. Then I kept searching, finally locating a herd of elk in the high country. They walked across the steeps like the gods of the rugged Rockies, masters of a world few people witness. I felt immense gratitude to be visiting their sacred world.
Over these six decades of searching for the Wild Divinity, two contemplative truths have become clear. The home of God is within me, at the center of my being. And as I practice that Presence I can be gifted to see the gate of heaven everywhere! This is my contemplative quest.
But let’s be real. I often do not see the gate of heaven anywhere. I get caught up in daily tasks like getting up, making breakfast, bathing, dressing, talking with my wife, and heading out for work. When with the extended family, or on vacation, practicing the Presence becomes even harder. It’s a struggle to find even a few minutes to practice inner awakening during any part of the day. Sometimes the whole endeavor seems impossible.
If I long to find an inner sanctuary, and to discover the Wild Divinity in my days, something has to give. I must craft a contemplative life. I must hold the space for sacredness to appear. Yes, there is always resistance and plain old laziness. But day after day I have to keep showing up to find what I seek.