Judy wrote me a handwritten letter. Her penmanship is beautiful and I had recently written to her how beautiful it was, so easy on the eyes. She writes with a small and graceful script. In her letter to me, she thanked me and wrote that she had to work hard to make her handwriting legible. If she writes slowly and with care it is, she discovered, easier to write legibly and, I might add, lovingly. I have the impression when I read her words that they are born from a kind of love, and gently placed on the paper.
When I first met her, the word that came to mind was gentle. She walks gently, looks about her with gentle eyes, and writes in a way that I imagine as being a soft movement of her hand across a page, so that the words flow as gently as she is gentle.
She wrote me about being in our retreat house parking lot one morning. She can remember exactly where she was, when she looked up and saw a leaf, golden in color, falling to the ground. “It fell so gently,” she wrote. And I smiled when I read those few words. Then, as she remembers, she looked to the ground where the leaf had come to rest and there were, in the soft mud, the prints of the geese – are they footprints? - as they made their way down to the lake. And Judy saw beauty there, and one thought quickly flowed to another, and she remembered feeling a presence, the presence of God, as if God had left his presence along with the falling leaf and the footprints.
In those few sentences, I saw a world, a gentle world of a woman looking above her and below, and in a swirling leaf of gold and in the yet moist footprints of winged creatures, she knew God to be near. It was all one world to me – the falling leaf, the delight of her being captivated by it, her downward glance at the tracks of the geese. It all offered a sense of God, something which I could take in from a few well crafted sentences. In the parking lot, Judy would have not seen it all at once. It would take a turn of her head, then a feeling in her heart, and a sense of wonderment. Could it be that God was really there with her?
She became, as the letter evolved, apologetic, or perhaps bashful, about what she had experienced. I think that she may have thought that I would judge such connections made from leaf to geese God to be off the mark – that God is not near falling leaves or walking geese.
If the word “God” is appears in a sentence, it follows that the words that precede it and follow it take on a special and heightened meaning. We use the word “God” as a way to anchor a sense of his presence in our lives. And so it is that when writing about God, the meaning can get quite specific, tied down to a place or a way of thinking, or loving, or seeing. I suppose we take some comfort in knowing that we have a word for the divine and that we can connect the word to seemingly adequate points of reference. We like to “map” God. We like to know that we “know.”
It is written that when asked about God and the Kingdom, Jesus looked about his world, his very immediate world, and replied by talking about seeds and leaven, the birds of the sky and mustard trees, of treasures hidden in fields. It seems that he delighted in knowing that the ways and presence of God are all about us.
We need people who help us make connections between what falls to the earth, like a leaf, and how it is that it reveals the soft and gentle ways of God. We need a way to assure us that when we see footprints on the earth that it is good to make an association between divine, human and creaturely presence. We all move in and through God. His footprints tread tenderly on the surface of the earth and the winding paths of the human heart. We look for God constantly – for it is God who is the source of every longing for love, every longing for the good and beautiful to last forever.
It takes a gentle soul to really see things for what they are. Revelations do not come readily to those who press too hard at the ever present surface of mystery. Many come here and enter our church and perhaps press too hard with words and insistence on the door of the house of God, asking that the Mystery speak, and speak clearly. Maybe on one such day, not long ago, there was a man or woman in the church, awaiting a sure sign of God. In their rush, they may have passed a woman in the parking lot who was gazing with awe at a gently falling leaf and then at her feet, at the tracks of webbed feet that wound down to the lake. She may have said something about a presence she felt, but was never asked. And she may have been to shy to tell. Only later, would she write gently on a page, and share her happiness that came with a falling leaf, and tell-tale tracks.
All about us is falling, even the universe, and we are falling with it. Someone walked through it a long time ago, and left tracks we can follow. They are there now, and they will be there when we come to rest. Love moves gently through us all, through all that is, leaving its mark, and we look about and make the connections, feeling it as close as a leaf, as near as a moist track, as gentle as a word written on a page.