My wife and I recently returned from a trip out of state. During our time away, nearly a foot of snow had fallen, and the tracks of the animals that had visited in our absence were clearly visible. We often see signs of the deer who swing by almost nightly to see what they can find beneath our apple trees. But this time, the house was literally surrounded by tracks of various kinds and sizes. The fact that our dog wasn’t around to alarm them meant that the wildlife came much closer to the house than usual, giving the distinct impression that we are in the presence of other beings that most of the time are invisible to us. Deer, foxes, cats, dogs, coyotes, chipmunks, turkeys, bears and squirrels all flow around us like a river of vitality that is only rarely seen and appreciated. Despite our endless efforts to make plans and control the circumstances of our lives, there remains a mysterious “wildness” that stands much closer to us than we realize.
For many of us, that “mysterious wildness” we sense seems much too close and threatening. Whether it’s medical issues, financial problems, political dysfunction, or the creeping onslaught of age that dog our footsteps, it rarely occurs to us that an even greater and wilder Mystery also walks beside us and is tender, loving and benevolent. The great spiritual leaders of various traditions continually remind us that such a Mystery is nearer to us than anything that might frighten or harm us. Rather than signs of danger, the footprints in the snow need to remind us of the One who comes looking for us, wanting to be our intimate Companion and to delight us with the sense of being part of something much larger than ourselves.
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Several days later, I was sitting facing a window that looked out on an open field that led up to a wooded hill about 100 yards behind the house. Suddenly, something caught my eye, and I wasn’t sure at first what it was. Then, looking more carefully, I saw three deer slowly making their way across the tree line. With their dark winter coats and slender limbs, they were almost invisible against the rocks, saplings and young trees behind them. Although it was early afternoon, there they were – creatures who usually walked near us only in shadows, but now visible to those with the eyes attentive enough to see them. My wife and I watched, transfixed, for nearly 30 minutes as they graced us with their gentle presence.
For me, this was a reminder that the Mysterious Presence which usually walks among us unseen, can be revealed to those who are ready and willing to see something more than what they’ve come to expect. Such vision, while surprising, is not disturbing, but rather conveys a profound sense of wonder, peace, and reverence for the beauty of Life. The essence of our spiritual journey is to prepare ourselves to not only recognize belatedly the tracks of the One who walks beside us when our attention was focused elsewhere but to also be prepared to appreciate those holy moments when Divinity is revealed directly. And as any Spiritual Director will tell you, those revelations are much more frequent than you might expect, especially once your spiritual eyesight has grown accustomed to the Light that shines amid the shadows.