by Molly Bosch
This past week brought grief heavily upon me with the shocking news that a dear friend and colleague had died unexpectedly. For five days, I sat in and sifted through feelings of shock and numbness. At the end of a long weekend, I reached out to a friend who was also going through heartbreak, hers from the recent ending of a relationship. Together, we decided to drive up Highway 2 and out into the Cascades to spend some time in nature. We needed to let the rhythm of our feet on the rocky trails lead us into a meditative sense of togetherness.
What I found most interesting was how each mile we drove farther away from the stimulation of Seattle and towards the stillness and power of nature, it felt like the heaviness that had clouded my ability to comprehend the fortitude of loss began to shed from my body, layer by layer. When we hit the trailhead, we were calm, excited to smell the moss intermingling with the pine in the trees and to hear the force of life playing in the streams of the creek beside us. We felt the spray of the waterfall dance on our skin, and as we looked at the water spilling down in powerful surrender to gravity. My friend turned to me and said, “isn’t it amazing that this is just always here? Waiting for us? We leave and go back to our chaotic lives, and this waterfall just continues to do this, without being prompted. Not for anyone or anything, it just does this every day all day. It is a gift freely given.”
He said this only moments after we had hiked a mile in conversation centered around who God is to us. His childhood had been filled with participation in a religious community that was rigid, unforgiving, and unaccepting of him. Mine was filled with a religion that forced judgement upon others and viewed shame as a cornerstone to spiritual engagement with the Divine. All this to say, the concept of God is one we are both deconstructing and renewing in our lives.
We hiked along strenuous paths, experiencing the cool air along our sweaty backs and at an elevation of about 2,300 feet, we finally arrived at an alpine lake. Just as we arrived, the mist began to clear, the sun sparkled on the water, still with its chunks of ice from the winter. The mountains surrounding us became visible. We did not hold back our joy, in the power of this moment, though the awe we felt is so difficult to put into words. The Psalm for today, Psalm 26, exquisitely captures the essence of the Divine in nature as “holy splendor.” The imagery it presents portrays a God whose power is most vividly experienced in such encounters with the natural world:
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
This image of God’s strength in the natural world beautifully interacts with the imagery portrayed in the reading from Job, which ponders the birth of animals and their eventual departure from their nurturing caretakers into the wild. When asking the question, “who let the wild ass go free?” (Job 39:5). Job writes of this very freedom: “It ranges the mountains as its pasture, and it searches after every green thing” (Job 39:8).
The interplay between this psalm and passage from Job complements the feelings that my friend and I experienced as we sought healing from nature. We must admit there is power in the impulse to explore what is green and wild, which is a common shared response to stress and pain across humanity. I think that the Holy Spirit is deeply embedded in the solitude of nature and the communion with earth that we feel when we place our feet on its rocky, uneven, beautiful ground. The experience that our lived bodies undergo during our time in our flesh is deep and at times intensely painful, but the Truth of the Divine is always there. It is waiting for us in a waterfall, a flower near the dirty pavement of a downtown street, in the sprays of water that slap our faces as we step off the bus into the rainy world, in the views of a mountain in the distance. Must we never forget that “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness” (Psalm 29:7).
Molly Bosch is a Registered Nurse working in homeless outreach in Seattle, WA. She is a member of the St. Mark’s Cathedral community. She spends time volunteering with street ministry chaplains who work with the unhoused community in downtown Seattle, which has been the catalyst for most of her spiritual writing. Her healing comes through writing and experiencing the Divine in poetry, literature, and communal storytelling.