[Editor's Note: This material will appear in Finding God Beyond Harvard: The Veritas Forum InterVarsity Press, Fall, 2006, title tentative.]
After a decade in Cambridge, MA I moved to a pine cabin, in the woods, on Boston’s North Shore. I decided to study at a seminary up there, and the cabin became a place of residence for me and retreat for students and friends via the Boston commuter rail on weekends.
Stretches of beach and small islands served as sanctuaries for artists as well as piping plovers. In a vast expanse of estuary and ocean, summers were full of wildflowers, bumbling bees, and tidal currents that challenged my sea kayaking skills. During fiery autumns and frozen winters, hikes, books, and the scent of wood smoke spoke to me, “Breathe and rest.”
Life on that boundary of land and water began for me as an escape—less from the city, more from exhaustion and the memories of a lost love and sense of lost life.
Despite two decades of purposeful adventure and rich relationships (such as mission work around the world and the Veritas Forum growing in many universities), I found myself questioning, often with anguish, my past choices and failures. I felt the aching sense of wasted time having postponed marriage and children while caring for the children of others, and while abstractly attempting to change the world. I questioned my frail faith in God’s sovereignty.
I liked to go for hikes in the snowy salt marsh at low tide. One day the sunlight was getting away from me and I thought I’d catch the last of it. I threw on some Gore-Tex and hiking boots, and was off on what I remember as “the red barn run.”
I had a routine for these outings: put some wood in the stove for heat that night, either bring or hug the dogs, go down through the woods, pass the neighbor’s chicken barn, greet the sheep, skirt the big red barn, hike into the marsh to the tide’s edge, and be back home in under an hour.
Tonight was different. A shining planet rose like a jewel beneath the crescent moon. Stars slowly emerged as members in the choir. Songbirds in their snowy pine trees became a timbered chorus of complex and lilting harmonies. The ocean tide slowly rose to the occasion. Earth and sky became the colors of bread and wine, flesh and blood. The setting sun turned the barn to orange and, later, to crimson.
Something about it seemed too good to be false.
I felt inklings of a symphony behind which might be a score and a conductor.
I sensed a story with a wooing author. I felt something like Tolkien’s enchanted vision, but the rightful owner of the one ring was the lord of light, not of darkness. The bearer of that ring to rule the spheres was some sort of wild and relentless lover, who could find us anywhere.
Moon and tides danced together. Creatures were changing shifts. Some were off to sleep, and others waking. It struck me that this, in fact, happens everywhere, every day, every year. We live on a life-giving planet, in a vast solar system, which is just a member of a still more vast and finely-tuned universe. And we have minds and hearts which are free to reject or to receive the gift and the giver of it all—to join the dance, or to wait it out.
In that hour there was too much beauty to be comfortable, to pay the weak compliment of aesthetic pleasure. It all seemed orchestrated, conspicuous, too overtly fine-tuned for me to do anything but be still and silent. I felt it all as con-spir-acy—a breathing together—inviting me.
But without me. What stopped and then sickened me that night, beneath that starry host, was the feeling that I could not participate. Except for me, all creation seemed to be joining in a cosmic chorus, an exquisite dance. The more I listened and watched, the more it seemed like worship. And yet I was on the outside, wanting in and yet standing against it in rebellion.
Beauty can be painful to bear alone….
To be continued tomorrow…
© 2005, Kelly Monroe Kullberg.