I've mentioned before that God speaks to me in images a lot. It started about 10 years ago and is such a helpful part of my life with God. When the images show up (I don't control whether they come or not), they often bring a greater awareness of the current growing edges of my life with God. They also provide an ease of language for my conversations with God in that place, too.
Perhaps at some point I'll share the story of how these images began and my thinking on how they integrate with a theologically grounded spirituality. But for today, I'll share that sometimes I get self-conscious about it. And in an image-rich time in my life with God like the one I am experiencing right now, I sometimes wonder: how do I share what God is doing without sounding insane?
When the image of the woods emerged, and with it the awareness of departure from my cohort group, I met with my spiritual director. On that day, I was a bit of a mess. I'd only just realized this journey into the woods meant emotional departure from some of those I love, at least for a time, and I couldn't fathom saying goodbye.
There I sat, sharing these images and what they meant with Elaine, tears dripping down my face and cries catching in my throat. And instead of thinking me weird, Elaine invited me deeper. She asked, Do you know where the woods is leading, or what's on the other side?
No, I didn't. I hadn't even considered that question. All I could see was the woods before me, God beside me, and my cohort group behind me.
Then she asked, Do you want to ask God what is on the other side?
Hmmm . . . okay.
In prayer, then, I told God about my fear of saying goodbye. I told him that as much as I was honored by his invitation, I didn't know how to depart. Furthermore, I wasn't sure I wanted to.
I told him that he didn't owe me an explanation, that he didn't have to tell me what was going to happen inside the woods or how long we would stay there. He didn't have to tell me where we were going, either, or what would emerge on the other side.
But if he was willing, would he?
I sat there quietly for a while after speaking these things to him, waiting, not really sure what would happen.
Then yet another image emerged.
I could see a new land on the other side of the woods that I had never seen before. There was sunshine there, and it opened up to the wide expanse of a farming village. There were oxen pulling hay. There was a man shoeing horses. There was a blacksmith. There were children running around in peasant clothes. There were so many people, all living in community with one another in a simple village, and I saw that God was giving this village to me and Kirk. He was inviting us to live in this community with these people, to get to know them and let them get to know us, to give and to receive life with them.
But first, before I could get there, I saw that I must go through the woods. I must first experience this aloneness with God. I couldn't reach the village otherwise.
That night, over dinner, I shared all of this with Kirk and received from him several incredible gifts. First, Kirk just offered me his presence by listening to what I shared about the image of the village that had emerged in my time of prayer during my direction session that afternoon. Second, he reminded me of something I'd not remembered in quite some time: that an image of the woods had cropped up earlier in our life together -- an image of me and God in a church in the woods, which was a place Kirk had always said was my special place to be with God alone.
I hadn't thought about that church in the woods in a really long time. Kirk found the above image for me by doing a Google image search that night, and this image of the church in the woods has since become my desktop and phone wallpaper as I journey through this season.
Finally, Kirk brought his laptop into our bedroom that night and played for me the opening scene of the Fellowship of the Ring (from the Lord of the Rings trilogy). Have you ever seen it? In that opening scene, we get to know life in the Shire -- a farming village full of simple people doing life together. That scene looked exactly like the image of the farming village I'd seen in my prayer time earlier that day, and it was such a gift for Kirk to share it with me. (You can watch a mash-up version of the opening scenes of the film by clicking on the link; unfortunately, I was unable to embed the video here.)
These gifts of kindness -- two people close to me holding the image of the woods with me and inviting me deeper into it -- brought about my discovery of the village on the other side of the woods . . . a new image that gave me the courage to say yes to God.
More on what I've discovered since walking into the woods with God in upcoming posts . . .