Once, on a silent retreat, my spiritual director suggested that I pray about God’s constant struggling effort in creation. Well, in my world (let’s be clear, this is the world of the fat kid) nothing says “struggling effort in creation” like a short hike. So I took a morning walk up to English Point. When I reached the first bench, maybe 100 yards up the hill from the cabin, I stopped to center myself and make this a prayerful experience. Okay, so I stopped to catch my breath, but, to be fair, I’ve found that catching your breath and prayer are pretty much the same thing.
The sun on the lake was peaceful and serene, but as usual, my mind was running with useless worries: Did I remember to turn the heater off? Maybe. Do I get enough exercise? No. Might I be mauled by a bear today? Yes! You know, the usual worries. A little further up the trail, still on retreat house property mind you, I took to imagining whatIwoulddoifabearweretoattack; it’s just how I roll.
Conscious of my desire to move from needless worry to prayerful serenity I made a concerted effort to stop thinking about imminent bear attacks. As all sympathetic souls already knew, it was just then that a startled animal dashed away through the brush off to my right. I may or may not have screamed.
A few steps further on I spotted, ahead on the trail and off to the left, a bleached white deer skull that someone had placed on a tree stump. I, of course, quickly imagined a deer execution, a mid-forest beheading. “Just rest your head here Bambi; it’ll be over before you know it.” I mean, hey, why not add an axe murderer to the bear-attack mix, right? I know you’re with me.
And then it happened. Against my better judgement, I climbed the bank to take a closer look. I turned the skull over in my hands, noticing its teeth and the bony knobs where its horns used to be. Peering into the hole at the base of the skull, I discovered something altogether terrifying. A f@#$ing wasp’s nest! An opportunistic wasp had affixed her nest to the roof of this abandoned skull and, sure enough, there she was tending the nest. This alarmed me enough to put the skull down and walk away, but as I did I could not get the image out of my head. But oddly enough I didn’t feel afraid any longer; I was entranced. The image itself was fixed to the roof of my skull.
Life is so persistent, God so determined, that even inside a skull, death’s very head, new life was finding a way. And this is a remarkable thing. Horrifying and wonderful both.
The rest of my hike was filled with a joyful exhilaration, an appreciation of the absolute and grotesque nature of God’s ongoing effort in creation. I’ve not often been taught not to think of the resurrection in these spiritualist/naturalist terms of regeneration and decomposition… but would that be so bad? My heart still raced, not in worry but excitement. So what if my own skull, filled as it often is with its plans and schemes, will one day be given up as a den for a wasp’s nest? Won’t even this surrender give God glory as much as the buzz of worry that usually fills my head?
Come to think of it, my skull is a wasp’s nest of sorts already, I might as well let God go ahead and just finish the job.