Darkness covered Orcas Island as we loaded the car to catch the ferry back to the mainland. My family had spent four stormy days playing epic rounds of monopoly and reading stacks of books, while the rain splashed the great picture windows that looked out onto the bay.
We rent a cottage on the island at least once a year, when we feel it call to us. The lack of internet or reliable cell reception and other distractions from home, invite us to listen. We hear the crackling of the fire, birds chasing each other through the branches of the trees and someone chopping firewood in the distance. We listen to each other-- to realize we haven’t been. And in all this, we hear God.
Each morning, we’d wake with the dawn light, looking out the windows, watching nature rouse with us. Each evening, we watched my husband make a fire in the fireplace, a ritual, our two young sons, observed with reverence, knowing that one day, this task would belong to them. These trips are in themselves a ritual—an attempt to make the invisible, visible. An attempt to connect with the holy.
We rub the sleep out of our eyes, sad to leave the cottage. My flashlight lit the path to our loaded car, the darkness sitting like a melancholy coat on our shoulders. After days of rain, the sky was clear, and I looked up to see a sea of stars.
It occurred to me, that my little city boys had never seen stars like this before, so I click off the flashlight to give them a dramatic introduction. We stopped in the middle of the path, tilting our necks to see the blanket of stars shine above us. Dazzled, they gasped as children do when they see something beautiful for the first time.
I felt rich to be the one to show them this gift.
“Listen” I whispered, wanting them to hear the waves breaking in the cove on the other side of the cottage. But in the quiet, we heard something else. Munching. A deer stood in the trees nearby and we could hear him chewing on leaves.
“I’m scared!” my oldest said, his voice trembling as the wind cut through us. I remembered that feeling.
I was five when I found a small vinyl record in our National Geographic Magazine labeled “Songs of the Humpback Whale”. I pulled the red record player my grandfather had given me for my birthday, out from under my bed and placed the record on the turntable.
Low moans bellowed from the speakers, followed by high pitched squeals as narration began, “These are underwater sounds made by humpback whales.” Tiny hairs stood on my arms as I listened to the creatures’ haunting sounds. I tried to imagine their enormous bodies moving through liquid, peaceful and languid. What were they saying to each other? They spoke deep from the inner space of the sea. It both frightened and fascinated me.
In those deep alien vibrations, I felt God’s Presence. He scooped a whale in His palm with a gentle caress, moved him through the waters. As my world expanded, I realized the enormity of it all-- I felt small. I saw a glimpse of God’s glory. It was frightening and yet, beautiful.
It’s the moment, C.S. Lewis wrote of--when you sense God has found you and He is not just a character in a book or something you can take out when you want to look at it. He’s alive, and “pulling at the other end of the cord.”
Do we drop the cord and run away? Afraid of what might be discovered? Or do we stand exposed, vulnerable, ready to meet what is revealed.
Back in Seattle, we return to our neighborhood to find trash scattered and a few downed tree branches. Our neighbor tells us we missed one of our frequent windstorms. “The electricity was out for almost a full day.” She tells us.
We unpack and return to our regular life. I meet with my friend Steve for tea. He too mentions the wind storm. “Was it frightening?” I asked.
“It was magnificent.” Steve says. When the gusts began to gain force, Steve drove out to Seward Park, a surviving remnant of an old growth forest on Lake Washington’s shore. The park is located in an urban community, yet it gives you the sense you’ve escaped city life. It’s right where Steve wanted to be. “I wanted to feel God.” He told me.
I imagined Steve standing out in the midst of it all, the wind whistling through the swaying Spruce trees, spray from Lake Washington showering him as he outstretched his arms shouting, “Show me Your glory God.” like some sort of modern day prophet.
In this daydream, I am Steve, conjuring the Invisible visible--my hope for this trip to the island. “I’m listening!” I call out, the wind cutting through my soul, waiting to see what will be revealed.