Restorying: some thoughts

04-17-2015 | Lindsay

Once, around this time of year, I walked alone into the creek valley behind Foxfire, where Bob had made a small pool in a bend of Deer Spring Creek. I was headed past this, on my way to the Meditation Shelter, when I heard an eerie racket, like banshees in an argument, or ravens in battle. A few yards away from the pool, I stopped in my tracks. The usually still water was rolling and frothing, embroiled in a mini-tempest, a witch's cauldron. I took a step or two closer and then, as if an invisible hand had abruptly dropped a veil over the scene, all was still. The pool returned to its looking glass state and was profoundly quiet. I waited. Nothing moved except the occasional water skimmer. Then I glimpsed a small brown back just under the water surface; then another. I slowly backed off and went on my way.

Wood frogs are shy creatures and don't suffer intruders amid their sacred rituals. In early spring, they awake from under leaves, stones, logs where they have lain frozen all winter, and travel to ephemeral pools and ponds. There the males call in chorus to their mates and passion ensues. Most wood frogs breed only once in their lifetimes; after their one wild and precious dance, the female lays her eggs nestled near water plants and slightly submerged logs. Then she and her lover are gone, back to the budding forest from whence they came.

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Whether or not Albert Einstein actually said this, it seems to me that the world does indeed offer itself to our imagination (as Mary Oliver has suggested), and there really is the choice to experience this place as a wonderland saturated by story and being and mystery.

Fortunately for me, this doesn't require spiritual virtuosity; only a sturdy pair of shoes and the chance now and then to take a walk within earshot of something entrancing. It is helpful, though, to have a language to illumine these encounters. For me, that idiom is restorying. I first came across it on a flyer for a retreat that read,

"... Beyond the world of being always busy, there is another world. We enter that world when we step over the threshold into the world of nature and soul-a world filled with mystery, enchantment, wisdom, and romance....on this retreat we will...listen for the tender voices of the Sacred in every object, in every creature, summoning us to conversation, to encounter, to romance. We will let these voices stir up our inner world of image and dream, symbol and soul...what poetry will flow from our fingers...what dreams will this romance with Earth evoke in us?..."

What gets stirred up, or evoked, is story. It is essential, and it is crucial. Thomas Berry, the revered eco-theologian (The Dream of the Earth) wrote, "It is all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good one."

Restorying is about recovering the story that is intimately our own and part of something larger. It is about the possibility of letting a vibrant, pulsing Earth into our senses and allowing it to awaken a poem of interwoven being and belonging. This narrative has been so silenced in the last few hundred years that it sounds revelatory to our unaccustomed ears; but it is ancient. Indigenous peoples, poets, mystics of every faith tradition have been telling it all along.

At weekend restorying retreats, we gather on the first evening outdoors, often at the rising of the moon, around a fire, embraced by woodlands, preferably near a river or pond. The stars are a canopy of delicate lights overhead; the peepers and songsters of the night trill in the dark trees; wood smoke from the fire whispers in our noses as spark-spangled firelight dances skyward. Whiffs of sage smoke linger on our clothes and in our hair. In turn, each person is asked, "Are you willing to enter the door that leads to the realm of heart and soul and mystery?"

We've held at least six or seven retreats of this ilk at Rolling Ridge in the last couple years, in every season. Each is themed differently, has its own flavor, but all hang on that one choice and dip ever deeper into the well of story. To discover and inhabit this story is, as Thomas Berry suggests, the task of our time. It is intensely personal and profoundly shared. It is stirring the inner and outer conversation of many. Ecologist and philosopher David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal) is one of them. He is coming to Rolling Ridge to lead us in "Between the Body and the Breathing Earth" in October. (Some spaces remain for this retreat.)

Meanwhile the inhabitants of the forest and the ephemeral pools: the mosses, the stones, the budding oaks and maples, the phoebes, the wood thrushes, and the wood frogs--counted among the guardians and guides to the imagination of the living Earth--go on luring us to come home to the sacredness of it all, to live understanding that everything is more or less miraculous. At Rolling Ridge, we have been delighted this season in the clusters of glistening eggs hovering just barely in view under the looking-glass surface of our small ponds. Scot has been counting them: there are thousands. Now we await transformation and the unfolding story that penetrates and transfigures our own as it asks: "Are you willing to enter the door that leads to the realm of heart and soul and mystery?"