Into a Summer Woods

In fairy tales and fables, woods are often depicted as dark and dangerous...but, in reality, woods can help us connect to a greater spiritual world around us.

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Hagar was banished by her master Abraham after Sarah had become jealous that she was bearing his child. Hagar took refuge “by a fountain of water in the wilderness.” There, the Angel of the Lord visited her and told her the name and destiny of her unborn child, Ishmael. Moses too encountered the Angel of the Lord, in the form of the burning bush, after leading his flock “behind the wilderness” to Mount Horeb. Later, in another wilderness journey, this time to the wild and lonely slopes of Mount Sinai, he came back carrying the tablets of the law.

Jesus met no less a figure than Satan himself during his 40-day sojourn in the wilderness, but he ultimately returned from his time there purified and empowered. I personally find it impossible to hear Jesus’ famous words to Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit blowing where it will without imagining a wind moving freely among trees. For Jesus, there was clearly something healing to be found in wild solitude.


All of these grand and holy adventures are very far away indeed from that New Hampshire hillside where, as a child, I stood and listened to the summer wind moving among the trees. And yet in another way, they’re not so far at all. For whether we are a legendary hero venturing deep into a trackless forest, or just an ordinary person taking a few quick steps off the beaten path and into unspoiled nature, what we encounter there is the same: a place where we can potentially get lost, but where something of the divine also waits to be found.

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Ptolemy Tompkins
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