Credit: Photo courtesy of Aaron Penn, photographer
There are many ways to experience one's connectedness with God. The search takes you outside and eventually leads you inside. One of my most memorable church experiences of that connection was while serving as a young women's counselor while in the LDS faith as one of several stepping stones on my path to finding God.
We were at a summer camp in the pine mountains of Arizona. We held a Sunday service in a clearing in the woods reserved for spiritual gatherings. Sitting on bleachers listening to the speaker, the sun sent illuminating rays through the trees. The slight rustling of the leaves in the breeze, birds singing their own celebration of life, and an abiding peacefulness settled in my being. I felt an aliveness and deep oneness with God. Even now there is an inner cleansing, an inner exhale, whenever I re-live that moment.
It reminds me of an earlier spiritual experience while living in Germany, spending Christmas with extended family in a small town called Selbitz. On Christmas Eve we would walk to a church in the town for a sort of midnight mass. My mother was raised Lutheran, my father Methodist, and my Grandmother was a reformed Catholic living as a Jehovah's Witness. There was something about being there, with other people wanting to experience something extraordinary, and I felt a shared connectedness. I remember how it felt to watch the procession celebrating Christ's entrance into our world, and how warm and full of light the church was. Walking home afterwards, snow falling under a cold, dark sky sparkling with light reflecting off snowflakes and lamp posts, the quiet conversations around us enveloped me in a blanket of peace that resonated on a deep, deep level.
From those earlier experiences I realize why I often find myself in the mountains today, surrounded by quivering aspen leaves, under bright blue skies and the sounds of the forest. It is there where I finally hear myself, where I feel loved and accepted, and close to something greater than my insecure self; something strong and loving and kind. It is where I go to connect with my idea of God, a benevolence that strengthens.
There is a Benedictine monk, David Steindl Rast, who shares his love for God and life, and us, through a website called www.gratefulness.org. Brother David is a vibrant living example of humble humor. He makes me want to go inside, find the best of me, and offer it to the world. He inspires me to ask, "What do I have left to give?"
Here is his gentle prayer on gratitude:
And leaves me with a sense of...