I have always loved Halloween, even when it was a “forbidden” holiday in some circles that surrounded me in my youth. We may have dressed-up for “Harvest Parties” at church, and perhaps a bit of trick-or-treat to neighbors and family. These alternative sweet-laden celebrations were fun enough, but there was something deeper to Halloween that always called to me. The ghost stories and haunted happenings seemed to be a reflection of a deeper, human yearning to see beyond the veil and catch a glimpse of another world, another layer, another depth. It was like a full scale hide-and-seek kind of holiday, where a mask may hide a friend, or a costume may allow a glimpse of the pieces of ourselves that we hide in normal daylight. Maybe, just maybe, we could catch sight not only of the seen, but of the unseen. Mystery, after all, is part of the human experience. And mystery is something I have always craved.
The past few days, I have been playing a bit of hide and seek with my own schedule, I must be honest. I have worked myself into a heap of exhaustion during frenetic October. I have been yearning for stillness. So, in between some strategically placed time for email and touching-base with the world, I scheduled self-care appointments to nurture mind, body, and spirit. I won’t write about all my “hide and seek” haunts, because I reserve the right to disappear into the mists sometimes and only be found when I want to. We all should build in and maintain a bit of mystery into our lives. However, one moment was such a metaphor for my state-of-mind that I felt compelled to write about it.
Mid-day yesterday, I packed myself a sandwich and some tea and walked around a local park until I found a tree that begged me to come sit beneath it. My noon-time meal was accompanied by falling leaves, a few acorns, and a nosy squirrel. That was exactly the kind of company I wanted to keep. I remained in this most rustic state of picnicking until a roving band of frisbee golf players decided to come along and break my solitude. I knew it was time to find my next quiet place, maybe one where I could write on my blog a bit. I walked to the other side of the park and sat on a bench, just breathing in stillness. The bench was beside a small pond with some ducks and geese swimming. The pond was lined with fall foliage and lovely in its quiet mid-day simplicity. Then, a car pulled up and a photographer emerged. She started circling all around the pond, her camera capturing the water-fowl swimming on a surface rippled with the reflected colors of Autumn. It really was lovely, and I am sure it spoke to her artistically. She was focused at water-level, apparently oblivious to the rustling I could hear higher in the trees by the water’s edge. As she was seeing and photographing the obvious, a Great Blue Heron had lighted and perched in the top branches of a nearby tree. The great bird extended its wings over the whole scene with a wing-span that took my breath away. Then, quickly and quietly, it tucked back amid the foliage. In spite of its grandeur, the majestic heron remained camouflaged, completely unseen.
The scene was a delight. I kept thinking about it long after the photographer left. I put away my own devices and decided to seek some stillness again, nodding to the heron to acknowledge its place in the Universe as I centered back into my own. I couldn’t help but wonder if our mutual respect of each other’s presence was a divine gift for us both in that moment.
In that stillness, I caught sight of times that mystery has spoken with me. How, like my siting of the great heron, there was something larger and majestic watching over while I was focused on duck-pond details. Seen and unseen companions are with us in the divine ordinary. In traditional nature-grounded spirituality as well as church liturgy, this is the weekend we welcome the thin veil between this world and the next. We celebrate Halloween, All Soul’s, Day of the Dead, Samhain, All Saints Day…let’s not even pretend to think the timing of all these dates was coincidental. This is a time to reach beyond the superficial quick-glimpses in our line of vision. This is an opportunity to understand that in all the diversity of our human spirituality there is a co-existing of what we see, what we experience, and what come to know and believe, even if we cannot see. Like the heron’s presence hidden by the sight of the ordinary geese, there is always more unseen than what we have learned to see around us.
It is majestic whenever we catch a glimpse of small points of light in the divine ordinary of our frenetic lives. It reminds us of the Great Unseen, at work in us, around us, and through us. Tonight, I rest with gratitude for the seen and unseen that companion me on my journey.