In spring, as friends met under freshly greening branches, we thought of a retreat at Rolling Ridge, “Returning to Holy Ground.” We dared to imagine a group gathered once again within the Meditation Shelter for ceremony and council, camping in the early autumn woods, and lodging for two nights in the shared cabin where simple meals might be prepared and eaten together. We thought of beautiful questions that might arise from a time of pandemic during which many were apprenticed to loss, sorrow, uncertainty, and perhaps to unexpected angels. What has been true for us? What have we learned? And what, now, do we hold in our open hands?
A season of dappled light followed, drenched in the sun’s bright rays. Around my home in Shepherd Village a landscape of wildish native plants blossomed: delicate pink milkweed, bright suns of coreopsis, bold coneflowers, spikes of lavender beardtongue, vibrant blue delphiniums in a riot of happy color.
At its edge, cheek by jowl, lay the adamant world, relentlessly filling with a resurgent pandemic.
At the end of July, we cancelled the retreat we had imagined. Other beautiful questions had arrived: How are we being shown what can sustain us and even allow us to thrive in a time of unknowing and continuing chaos? How can we find the holy ground within us?
The questions beckoned a different retreat, this one entirely outdoors and lasting a single day, “Pilgrimage on the Wild Earth: Finding Holy Ground in a Time of Unknowing.”
At the season waned, the plants who unfailingly had poured forth beauty and oxygen for all the moons of summer faded and made haven for the thousands of finches, wrens, chickadees madly dancing among their drying heads, the air alive with the flash of small bodies and the beating of wings.
Here is what is known: gifts upon gifts cascade down the air without ceasing through the turning days in this “indivisible place, this world…which is faithful beyond all our expressions of faith” (Mary Oliver in “Walking Home from Oak-Head”). Meanwhile, the Earth is alive and warm beneath our feet, the soil churning with life. The trees are communicating with one another in a myriad of ways through myrrochizal networks; mother trees nurture young trees in the forest, giving nutrients and energy to their offspring; there is a vast conversation going on all around us, under our feet and in the surrounding air. The many species of insect and animal life are moving and breathing, eating and excreting, emerging and dying, all part of the web of life which holds us and every being, an immense compass of wordless wisdom, a thousand teachers and guides waiting for our attention.
It is possible to know this and know everything else: horror, sadness, fear, uncertainty. We live in wonder and grief at exactly the same time. Holy ground.